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For Minnesota ice fishing enthusiasts, now's the time to strike

Now is the time to hit the ice. The rewards go to those anglers willing to put in the effort and beat the crowds by venturing on foot on early ice. Here's a look at the opportunities waiting in west central Minnesota.

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A man fishes on the ice of Foot Lake in Willmar on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — There’s an easy answer for those who question why ice anglers are willing to venture out on the season’s first ice.

Fishing is the best.

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Now is the time to strike, as a forecast for cold temperatures in the week ahead brings the promise that some of the area’s larger lakes will soon be ice-covered.

Many shallow lakes in the region are already ice-covered. Anglers have been venturing out on lakes including Foot Lake in Willmar and the upper portion of Lac qui Parle Lake near Appleton for more than a week.

Anglers have been finding walleyes in 12 feet of water and deeper in Foot Lake by the radio station, according to Jayson Estum, of J & J's Highway 71 Bait and Sport in Willmar. Anglers have also reported some success with walleye in the north bay of Long Lake north of Willmar.

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Estum recommends using flathead or rainbow minnows on a bobber rig or jigging them on a spoon or buckshot. Red has been the hot color so far, he added.

Earlier this week, he found 3 to 4 inches of ice in most bays and as much as 5 inches in a bay on Solomon Lake. With a blast of flat-out cold air on its way, he's expecting to see some anglers venturing out on ATVs, perhaps as early as this weekend.

There are lots of other fishing opportunities waiting in all directions. A good starting point might be to the south, according to Brad Carlson with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff in Spicer.

Anglers have already been working the waters of School Grove and Cottonwood lakes in Lyon County. These lakes are on the southern edge of the area managed by the Spicer fisheries office. Cottonwood Lake put out large numbers of perch in the past two winters, and should again. Both of these shallow prairie lakes hold good walleye numbers, said Carlson.

In Kandiyohi County, he recommends targeting the shallow lakes first. Big Kandiyohi and Minnetaga are traditionally good lakes to start the ice fishing hunt for walleyes.

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Anglers have been fishing Foot Lake in Willmar since Thanksgiving. These anglers with their portable fish houses took advantage of good conditions on the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Lake Wakanda south of Willmar might prove worth a shot as well. A drawdown on the lake did not produce the winterkill as hoped. A net tossed in the lake earlier this year by the fisheries crew showed walleye are still to be found there, he said.

Add Elizabeth Lake near Atwater to the list of waters to explore. There were good numbers of mostly female walleyes in the lake when the crew conducted an egg take for the hatchery there in the early spring.

If it’s walleye you want, consider Carrie and Ella lakes for the early season as well. And if the walleye aren't biting, know that both lakes also hold good numbers of crappies.

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Moving north of Willmar, Ringo and East Solomon have the potential for walleye action as well. Long Lake north of Willmar has seen heavy fishing pressure in the last two to three years. It also holds some bigger crappies, said Carlson.

Nest Lake and Eagle Lake are perennial favorites in Kandiyohi County, and hold good numbers of walleyes

As the ice takes over the larger waters, Diamond, Norway, Koronis and Green lakes become the go-to lakes for many.

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Carlson is enthusiastic about the prospects for Green Lake, where natural reproduction is on the upswing and nets are showing some of the best walleye population numbers seen in a long time.

The fisheries crew has been stocking area lakes exclusively with fry and fingerlings with the "Spicer strain" of genetics. They are the progeny of the eggs and milt taken from walleyes netted in local waters. The local genetics are proving themselves to do best.
If crappies are the fish of choice, Foot Lake by Willmar remains a good bet. Rice is probably the most consistent producer of crappies in this region, said Carlson.

For bluegills, consider Long Lake by Hawick, Diamond, Nest, Florida and George. Calhoun, Florida and George might be the “sleepers” from among the list, he said.

Those ready to hit the road for destinations to the north and west of Kandiyohi County have plenty of opportunities waiting as well.

The big waters of Lake Minnewaska, Lac qui Parle and Big Stone lakes will be seeing plenty of attention as the ice takes hold.

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Chris Domeier, fisheries supervisor in Ortonville, said there are plenty of shallow waters ready for early season action as well. Artichoke Lake and Little Long Lake to its west both have good walleye numbers.

Angler holds a walleye close up to the camera
A Minnesota angler holds a walleye before releasing it. Ice fishing for walleye is at its best during early ice, as the fish slow in activity as the winter progresses.
Forum News Service file photo

Most of the walleye in Little Long Lake are only 13 inches, but are 5 years old. They are not growing, so he urges anglers to harvest the ones they catch.

Anglers also have found success on some of the shallow stocking ponds located in Waterfowl Production Areas and Wildlife Management Areas in both Big Stone and Lac qui Parle counties. Last winter went easy on most of the shallow waters in Big Stone County, with limited reports of winterkill, he said.

Fishing can vary greatly each year, largely due to changes in the forage base in each pond, he explained. Many of the ponds hold good numbers of walleyes and many also hold perch.

Anglers can access fisheries surveys and other information on Minnesota lakes by using the lake finder on the DNR's website.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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