By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Ice fishing is for the intrepid angler, a sport that combines skill with challenge with patience. It’s all about the adventure and the experience, significantly enhanced by finding the best places for a generous catch. Be safe; obey regulations and take precautions seriously. Beginners should engage the services of an experienced guide.
Higgins Lake, MI
Home of the “other great lakes,” Houghton County in Northern Michigan is the place to be for a late December start to the ice fishing season that can last until May. Higgins Lake is deep and slower to freeze but worth the wait. It’s a 10,185-acre inland recreational lake with a 21-mile shoreline about 200 miles north of Detroit, right in the center of Michigan’s upper mitten. Nearby are Houghton Lake and Lake St. Helen, both ice fishing hot spots as well. Higgins Lake is known for its trout and smelt and fishermen also find perch, crappie, small and large mouth bass, northern pike, walleye, pike, bluegill and more. Several sports and tackle shops rent equipment and shanties, some which come with fishing holes already cut, and even shanties large enough for an overnight stay.
Lake Champlain, VT
Vermont claims to have the best ice fishing in New England. Among the state’s 40 ice fishing lakes, Vermont Fish and Wildlife recommends Lake Champlain as the best. In bays along the 120-mile long lake, parts of which belong to New York State and Canada, there’s landlocked salmon, lake trout, northern pike, yellow perch, white perch, walleye, and crappie. Local bait and tackle shops can provide the most up-to-date information on lake and pond ice fishing conditions, what seems to be biting and where. Local bed and breakfast inns such as The North Hero House provide lodging and meal packages complete with an expert guide, gear, and ice fishing shanty rentals plus fire wood for the day or the weekend. Fishing licenses are available for residents and non-residents for the season which runs from the third Saturday in January through March 15.
Caples Lake, CA
If ice fishing in the sunshine appeals, California’s Sierra Nevada range is the place to be. Near South Lake Tahoe on Highway 88 just east of Kirkwood Ski Resort, Caples Lake is a popular winter fishing location for rainbow trout and some brook and cutthroat trout. At an elevation of 7,950 feet, it’s serene on a sunny day, 600 acres tucked away high in the Sierras at at an elevation of 7,950 feet. Locals say the best areas in the winter are the dam and spillway on the west side of the lake. About 10 miles away also on Highway 88, Silver Lake is west of Kirkwood at the base of Thunder Mountain at 7,200 feet elevation. Less accessible, Silver Lake lacks a developed resort or parking area. Tahoe Fly Fishing operates year-round and is the best resource for ice anglers heading for this lesser-known region.
Lake of the Woods, MN
Known as the walleye capital of the world, the scenic Lake of the Woods has smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, sturgeon, muskie, sauger, rock bass, and crappie inside its 65,000 miles of shore line. Spanning the Canadian border, this is the largest inland freshwater lake in the continental U.S. after the Great Lakes. With more that 50 resorts offering ice fishing tours, this Minnesota destination has refined ice transportation to the Nth degree. Plower roads right across the frozen lake can transport anglers to a mushrooming community of shacks, including sleeper fish houses, numbering up to 3,000 by the height of the season. Lake of the Woods has a long ice fishing season from early December through late March.
Lake Winnebago, WI
You know the fish must be big when the local ice fishing contest has prizes worth $275,000. The annual Battle on Bago happens at the end of the season on the last weekend in February, attracting ice anglers from all over the country, weather permitting. The lakeside towns of Font du Lac, Oshkosh, and Appleton form the Lake Winnebago community about 90 miles north of Milwaukee. The lake stretches for nearly 30 miles from north to south and eight miles from east to west. Although only 21 feet deep at most, the largest inland lake in Wisconsin (also the largest lake contained entirely within any one U.S. state) is filled with walleye, perch, white bass, and sturgeon in a mix of deep and shallow water areas.
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