Hello to all who enjoy ice and cold and ice fishing. The weather we are infamous for has arrived (a bit early). Non the less, it’s here and it’s not going to go away till March so we might as well embrace it and enjoy it however we can. Most of us in Otter Tail Lakes Country stare at our many lakes and watch them freeze and then begin poking at the ice from shore with sticks and rocks and chisels. After a day or two of poking, most people do a little off-shoreline tip-towing. While others, however, go a little further out—and a hand full of others go even further out and start their ice fishing season. It’s my favorite time to be on a lake. There’s something about fresh/first ice. It’s like perfect cookies just out of the oven—but be careful, even a perfect cookie that smells great will burn you. Take extreme caution when venturing onto the lakes right now!!!!!!!!! A few inches of ice, can be a glorious platform for exploration and wonder, but can shift and break with a big wind and can, in fact, blow to shore and be gone in a short day. Be very careful, bring a chisel, a length of rope, wear a life jacket, bring a cell phone and when possible, bring a partner (who should follow you rather then walking abreast with you). If you don’t have an adventuresome partner to bring with you, then be sure and let someone know where you are going and what time you’ll be home.
Fishing on Otter Tail Lakes Country’s early ice can be the best fishing of the year, but be very careful (have I said that already?). For panfish, aim at deep basin’s on mid-depth lakes. If you bring a Vexlar or comparable equipment with you then you should be able to spot suspended panfish over these areas before you begin fishing (you’ll need some water to shoot through the ice). Fish walleye as though it’s early June. Fish weed lines and common walleye water like points and turns and use 1/4 oz. spoons tipped with minnow heads or whole minnows. First-ice walleye are not afraid to eat large stuff. Once the ice gets around 15-20 inches thick then you’ll want to back off and think small. Northern will be near weed lines and may also be with and near schools of panfish in deeper basins. You shouldn’t need a power auger. It’s a lot easier to carry a hand drill. I like to use a 6 inch drill—they cut quickly. I wanted to save my last bit of early-ice cautionary wisdom for last. This is the most important bit—NEVER TAKE SOMEONE ELSES WORD FOR IT. IF SOMEONE SAYS THE ICE IS SAFE—IT DOESN’T MEAN THE ICE IS SAFE. YOU NEED TO CHECK IT OUT FOR YOUR SELF! Good luck this early season. Have fun and be safe.
Ross Hagemeister, Meister Guide Service, meisterguideservice.com