Hardwater Hotspots Firing Up

The early-ice walleye bite is great, especially if the ice quality is solid enough for a Thanksgiving day outing.

Continued cold across the Upper Midwest is helping usher in an early start to the ice fishing season. And from small-water panfish action to big-lake perch and walleyes, there’s something for everyone on tap this Thanksgiving weekend.

On Minnesota’s Upper Red Lake, for example, anglers by late last week were already fanning out to sample the mighty lake’s storied walleye population. “Guys are walking out on up to eight inches of ice to the first shoreline break, and targeting fish in 5 to 8 feet,” reported veteran Red Lake guide and noted hardwater sage Jonny Petrowske. ATV traffic was expected shortly, and should be going strong in time to provide a sane alternative to Black Friday chaos.

Petrowske reported the initial bite was a bit lackluster, due to suspended sediments raised by late-fall gales prior to ice-up. “But the water is getting clearer every day, and the bite should be red-hot by Thanksgiving or sooner,” he said. By Red Lake standards, that means your typical portable shack or rental sleeper should see 60 to 100 fish per day cross over to our side of the ice.

Petrowske noted that Upper Red is flush with fish from 16 to 19 inches, with chances for larger catches possible. It’s quite a turnaround from historic lows in the 1990s. To protect the fishery from future crashes, the state Department of Natural Resources and Red Lake Band of Chippewa jointly developed a harvest plan, which calls for the walleye limit dropping to three fish effective Dec. 1. All fish from 17 to 26 inches must be released immediately, and only one over 26 inches is allowed in possession.

Tactically speaking, Petrowske’s pet presentations for first-ice ’eyes include 3/16- to 1/8-ounce, red Lindy Rattl’n Flyer Spoons tipped with a minnow head or tail. “The fish are so aggressive, a lot of guys don’t even use bait,” he laughed. “Lindy Darters produce a ton of fish, too.”

Upper Red is just one example of the options on hand for hardwater warriors hoping to enjoy a bit of first-ice action during the holiday weekend. And by all accounts, the bite should be worthy of extra gratitude this Thanksgiving.


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