The thermometer outside a frosty window read 25 below zero. Inside the cabin, we had a fire raging and fresh coffee in the pot. Leaving warmth and safety to travel 20 miles out onto Lake of the Woods to ice fish in these conditions seemed crazy, and I maintained that thought the whole way to our ice fishing shanty.
Lake of the Woods is located in the northern reaches of Minnesota and stretches into Canada, ranging into both Ontario and Manitoba. It’s the sixth largest fresh water lake in the United States behind the five Great Lakes. It is over 70 miles long and 70 miles wide. The lake has 65,00 miles of shoreline and over 14,500 islands.
When my six fishing companions and I stepped out of our bombardier, which is an enclosed vehicle running on tracks, we were exposed to true nothingness. As far as you could see in every direction was windswept, snow-covered ice dotted only by a smattering of ice fishing shanties. I have no idea how cold it was with the windchill, but if you took a breath through your nose, your nose hairs instantly froze and crystalized.
Once we stepped inside our shanty, the temperature outside ceased to matter. A propane heater quickly warmed the wooden structure to a point where keeping our coats on was unbearable. We scooped floating ice out of our predrilled holes and lowered our baits, spoons and jigs tipped with minnows, 32 feet down to the bottom.
Serious fishermen recognize Lake of the Woods as one of America’s premiere open water and ice fishing destinations. With every cast, or in the case of ice fishing with every drop, you don’t know what you’ll hook into, but northern pike, perch, sauger, crappie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, lake trout, sturgeon, and muskellunge are all a possibility. However, it’s walleye that make Lake of the Woods famous. Anglers visit Lake of the Woods with expectations of catching loads of walleye and with the realistic hope of landing one of the giant lunkers that make the lake famous.
On this trip, Lake of the Woods did not disappoint. Throughout the day, our group plugged away at catching a bunch of eater-sized, 12-14 inch, walleye and sauger. Then it happened. Joe Henry, the Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau, calmly announced a bite and set the hook. A few seconds later his calm demeanor turned to excited concern, when he aggressively stated, “big fish.” Indeed it was. Joe landed a 31.5-inch behemoth that we estimate weighed a staggering 12-pounds. A walleye of this size is truly a fish of a lifetime for any angler.
After a hard day of fishing, we headed to one of the coolest attractions I’ve visited in quite a while. The Igloo Bar, which is a structure built to look like an igloo, is set up a couple of miles out on the lake. It’s owned and operated by Zippel Bay Resort. Inside the bar, you can enjoy food and beverages while ice fishing at your table. I watched a guy pull a nice walleye through the ice with one hand while clutching a beer in the other. All the patrons cheered.
Baudette, Minnesota is known as “The Walleye Capital of the World.” The little town of just over 1,000 residents is warm and welcoming. You can find everything you need for your own fishing adventure including lodging, boat rentals and guides in and around Baudette. On this trip, we stayed at Sportsman’s Lodge and everything about the experience, from the accommodations to the food to the friendly staff, was exceptional. I can’t wait to return during the late summer or early fall with my family for an open water walleye experience. For more information about Lake of the Woods visit the website www.LakeoftheWoodsMN.com