A Beginner's Guide to Lake of the Woods Ice Fishing from a Local Angler's Perspective

Experience the magic of Lake of the Woods ice fishing without emptying your wallet! Discover clever hacks, budget-conscious gear options, and affordable lodging choices for an unforgettable winter adventure.

Lake of the Woods is a popular destination for ice fishing enthusiasts and for good reasons. With over 65,000 miles of shoreline and over 14,500 islands, it’s a spectacular lake that offers a variety of fish species, including walleye, lake trout, crappie, northern pike, whitefish, and perch.

The lake is known for its trophy walleye, the most popular target species for ice anglers. Lake of the Woods also offers a unique multi-species fishing experience, making it a great place to go ice fishing.

If you’re planning a trip this season, keep reading our guide to know everything to make your trip memorable.

Key Takeaways

→ Understand the best practices and tips for a successful Lake of the Woods ice fishing trip.

→ Learn about the prime locations and times for targeting walleye and other species during the ice fishing season.

→ Gain insight into the local regulations and necessary equipment for a safe and fruitful ice fishing experience.

Embracing the Ice: Preparing for Your Adventure

Before you step onto the frozen expanse of Lake of the Woods, preparation is key. The lake, renowned for its walleye season, offers a unique ice fishing experience that requires specific gear and knowledge.

Know Your Waters:

Get Licensed:

  • Both states offer various license options, including one-day, multi-day, and annual licenses. Choose the one that best fits your trip length.
  • Purchase licenses online or at authorized retailers near the lake.

Respect the Catch:

  • Limits and slot sizes: Each species has specific limits and slot sizes (protected lengths). Familiarize yourself with these regulations to avoid unintentional violations.
  • Closed seasons and gear restrictions: Certain areas and species may have closed seasons or specific gear restrictions. Stay informed!
Be a Responsible Angler:

• Practice catch-and-release for undersized or slot-sized fish.

• Follow proper fish handling and release techniques.

• Respect the ecosystem and dispose of waste responsibly.

Timing is Everything: Best Time to Ice Fish

The best time to ice fish at Lake of the Woods is typically from early December through late March. During this period, the ice is thick enough to support heated fish houses and the bustling activity of ice anglers.

The walleye fishing season peaks as the fish are actively feeding before the spawning period in the spring. Keep an eye on the local angler's calendar to plan your trip during the prime fishing windows.


  • Early Ice (Early December - January): Thinnest ice (4-6 inches), prime for walleyes and saugers along weed edges and reefs. Mornings and evenings offer the best action in colder temperatures.
  • Peak Season (Late January - Mid February): Thickest ice (12-18+ inches), opens up more areas for exploration. Walleye, sauger, and perch bite well throughout the day, with midday often hottest.
  • Late Ice (Late February- Late March): Ice starts thinning (8-12 inches), focus on shallow areas near shore. Crappie and early pike action pick up, mornings and evenings prime again.

Popular Species:

  • Walleye: King of the lake, found throughout the season, especially near reefs and points. Jigging and tip-ups work wonders.
  • Sauger: Similar to walleyes but smaller, active all season, excellent jigging targets in shallower areas.
  • Perch: Abundant and fun to catch, bite best in the late afternoon with small jigs and minnows.
  • Crappie: Late ice specialists, shallow bays and weed edges are their haunts, small spoons and live bait are effective.
  • Northern Pike: Bonus thrill seekers! Spearfishing and tip-ups can land these aggressive predators throughout the season.
SeasonIce Thickness (in.)Peak ActionBest Time of DayPopular Species
Early Ice4-6Walleye, SaugerMornings, EveningsWalleyes, Saugers
Peak Season12-18+Walleye, Sauger, PerchThroughout DayWalleyes, Saugers, Perch
Late Ice8-12Crappie, PikeMornings, EveningsCrappie, Pike
Sturgeon caught on Lake of the Woods
Sturgeon caught on Lake of the Woods

Lodging & Accommodations near Lake of the Woods

Hitting the ice on Lake of the Woods promises epic battles with legendary fish, but finding the perfect base camp is crucial for post-fishing bliss. Let's explore diverse lodging options near popular spots, catering to every angler's needs and budget.

Lakeside Resorts:

  • NW Angle: Immerse yourself in the heart of the action with resorts like Arnesen's Rocky Point or Ballard's Resort. Cozy cabins, on-site ice house rentals, and guided fishing are just a few perks.
  • South Shore: Warroad offers resorts like Wigwam Resort and Zippel Bay Lodge, boasting comfortable accommodations, delicious meals, and easy access to prime fishing grounds.

Charming Cabins:

  • Sioux Narrows: Escape the crowds and bask in tranquility at family-run lodges like Riverbend Cabins or Birchwood Lodge. Enjoy intimate cabins, stunning scenery, and access to secret fishing spots.
  • Rainy River: Experience the Canadian charm of Harris Hill Resort or Cedar Hill Lodge. These rustic cabins offer lakeside serenity and proximity to top fishing areas like the Northwest Angle.

Budget-Friendly Towns:

  • Kenora: This vibrant town on the Ontario side offers comfortable hotels like Best Western Plus Lakeside and Travelodge by Wyndham Kenora. Explore local shops and restaurants after a day on the ice.
  • Baudette: Located in Minnesota, Baudette boasts options like Timberlane Lodge and Lake of the Woods Inn. Enjoy friendly hospitality, affordable rates, and access to South Shore fishing spots.

• Book your accommodations early, especially during peak season.

• Consider amenities like on-site fish house rentals, guided fishing packages, and boat launches.

• Choose a location that matches your preferred fishing spots and desired level of seclusion.

With these diverse options, you will surely find the perfect home base for your Lake of the Woods winter fishing adventure.

You can easily find cozy cabins near lake of the woods that will fit your budget.
You can easily find cozy cabins near the Lake of the Woods that fit your budget. (Credit: Border View Lodge)

Budgeting Your Fishing Adventure

Lake of the Woods has a lot to offer during the frozen months. So you need to plan your trip according to your needs to make the most of your stay without breaking the bank.

Weekend Trip:

  • 2-3 days: Ideal for a quick taste of the action. Focus on specific areas near your chosen lodging, like the NW Angle's reefs or South Shore's points.
  • Budget-friendly: Opt for cozy cabins or hotels in nearby towns like Baudette or Kenora. You can pack your food and drinks to save on costs.
  • Activities: Explore local shops and restaurants, try ice skating or snowmobiling, and enjoy the winter wonderland atmosphere.

Extended Adventures:

  • 4-7 days: Dive deeper into the frozen wilderness. Explore different areas like Sioux Narrows or Rainy River for a variety of fish and scenery.
  • Moderate budget: Consider lakeside resorts offering on-site ice house rentals and guided fishing packages for a hassle-free experience.
  • Activities: Take a guided ice fishing tour, learn spearfishing for pike, or relax in the sauna after a long day on the ice.

Budget-Conscious Anglers:

  • Camping: Pitch a tent at designated campsites near the lake for a truly immersive experience. But be careful as you need to have a strong heart to brave the rigors of winter camping.
  • DIY approach: Rent a portable ice house and bring your own gear. Cook your own meals and pack snacks to save on dining costs.
  • Local tips: Ask locals about hidden fishing spots and budget-friendly restaurants. Utilize free resources like public boat launches and ice fishing forums.

• Factor in transportation costs, fishing licenses, and gear rentals when budgeting.

• Dress in layers for changing weather conditions and pack essential safety equipment.

• Consider joining group ice fishing trips for shared costs and camaraderie on the ice.

Pick an ice house for a comfortable ice fishing experience
Pick an ice house for a comfortable ice fishing experience

Choosing Your Spot: Where to Drill Your Holes

Lake of the Woods is vast, with numerous bays, inlets, and the Northwest Angle to explore. For walleye, focus on areas with sandy bottoms and structures where they tend to congregate.

The south shore and areas near the Rainy River are popular for their healthy population of walleye. Jumbo perch and northern pike are often found in weedy areas or near the shoreline.

Here are some popular spots catering to different skill levels and target species:

Walleye & Sauger:

  • NW Angle: A classic, offering reefs, points, and weed edges near Rocky Island, Garden Island, and Snake Reef. (Head north on Hwy 71, turn onto County Rd 110, follow signs to NW Angle)
  • South Shore: Known for consistency, try reefs near Pine Island, Morris Point, and Zippel Bay. (Take Hwy 71 south, turn onto Hwy 172 towards Warroad)
  • Hidden Honey Hole: Zippel Bay's east side near Snake Island offers hidden reefs and drop-offs teeming with aggressive walleyes. (Accessible by snowmobile or ice truck from Zippel Bay)

Perch & Crappie:

  • Sioux Narrows: Shallow bays and weed edges near Morris Point and Rocky Island attract abundant perch and crappie. (Take Hwy 71 north, turn onto Hwy 172 towards Sioux Narrows)
  • Kenora: The Straw Hat Channel holds hidden pockets with excellent perch and crappie action. (Head north on Hwy 71, cross the border into Kenora)
  • Hidden Honey Hole: Clearwater Bay's east side near Rat Island boasts shallow bays and fallen timber perfect for crappie ambushes. (Accessible by snowmobile from Sioux Narrows)

Northern Pike:

  • Traverse Bay: Open water areas near Pine Island and Morris Point offer spearfishing opportunities for trophy pike. (Take Hwy 71 south, turn onto Hwy 172 towards Warroad)
  • Hidden Honey Hole: The NW Angle's south side near Rat Portage Bay offers deep weed edges and drop-offs where lurking pike await tip-ups. (Accessible by snowmobile from the NW Angle)
Ice conditions and fish locations can vary, consult local guides and resorts for up-to-date information. Respect the ecosystem and practice sustainable fishing methods.
Garmin STRIKER Plus 4 Will Ensure Maximum Success on Ice
Garmin STRIKER Plus 4 Will Ensure Maximum Success on Ice

Ice Fishing Techniques: Tips from the Pros

Successful ice anglers at Lake of the Woods know that constantly moving and trying new holes can lead to a better catch. Don't be afraid to drill multiple holes and move around if the fish aren't biting. Use electronics to locate schools of fish and drop your line accordingly.

Remember, patience and persistence are key in ice fishing. Here's a quick guide to popular techniques for different species:

Walleye & Sauger:

  • Jigging: The king of techniques! Use minnow jigs or spoons tipped with wax worms or maggots. Jig them near reefs, drop-offs, and weed edges. Don't forget the "walleye wiggle" — short, erratic movements to mimic panicked prey.
  • Deadsticking: Set your tip-up with a live minnow near the bottom. Watch the flags closely, a slight twitch means a hungry walleye! Tip: use fluorocarbon line for stealth.

Perch & Crappie:

  • Jigging: Smaller jigs and spoons loaded with maggots or wax worms work wonders. Target shallow bays and weed edges. Watch for aggressive bites - these guys are fast nibblers!
  • Tip-ups: Set them up with small minnows in shallow areas. Crappie especially love suspended baits, so adjust your depth accordingly.

Northern Pike:

  • Tip-ups: Use large dead bait like suckers or tullibees near weed edges or open water areas. Pike are ambush predators, so set your flags up high for clear visibility.
  • Spearfishing: For the adventurous! Get a good spearfishing gun and head to open water areas with clear ice. Look for pike lurking near drop-offs or weed beds.
Don't be afraid to experiment! Different lures, colors, and techniques can work depending on the day. Observe other anglers, ask local guides, and most importantly, have fun!
Remember to carry a reliable GPS device if you plan to venture on off-beat paths. Garmin Montana has been one of our favorites.
Remember to carry a reliable GPS device if you plan to venture on off-beat paths. Garmin Montana has been one of our favorites.

Gear Up for Glory: Lake of the Woods Ice Fishing Rentals & More

Hitting the frozen expanse of Lake of the Woods is exhilarating, but packing all the gear can be daunting. Fear not, anglers! Embrace the convenience of rental options and focus on the thrill of the catch.

Know Your Needs:

  • First-timers or casual anglers: Don't sweat it! Opt for complete ice house packages with rods, reels, jigs, minnows, and even heaters. Local resorts like Arnesen's Rocky Point or Zippel Bay Lodge offer fantastic options.
  • Experienced anglers: Rent just the essentials like shelters, augers, and electronics to supplement your own tackle. Resorts like Ballard's Resort or Wigwam Resort cater to these needs.
  • DIY Enthusiasts: Stock up on live bait and terminal tackle at local bait shops like Zippel Bay Bait or Kenora's The Fishin' Hole. They'll have everything you need to customize your experience.

Rental Tips:

  • Book early: Peak season rentals fill up fast, so secure your gear before the ice sets.
  • Consider the package: Choose the level of equipment you need to avoid overspending.
  • Check the condition: Ensure all rentals are in good working order before venturing out.
  • Don't forget the essentials: Pack warm clothes, food, and safety gear like spuds and life jackets.

Local Gems:

  • NW Angle: Zippel Bay Bait, Arnesen's Rocky Point, Ballard's Resort
  • South Shore: Wigwam Resort, Warroad Sporting Goods
  • Kenora: The Fishin' Hole, Canadian Tire
  • Rainy River: Harris Hill Resort, Cedar Hill Lodge
Renting gear can be cost-effective and convenient, especially for short trips or first-time adventures. So, focus on the joy of the hunt and leave the heavy lifting to the pros! Utilize online booking platforms to compare rental options and prices across different providers.

Additional Tips:

  • Consider the species you're targeting: Different fish require different gear. For example, pike fishing requires heavier equipment than perch fishing.
  • Think about the weather conditions: Renting cold-weather clothing and boots can be a good idea if you're not prepared for the harsh winter temperatures.
  • Ask about guided fishing packages: Some rental companies offer packages that include a guide who can help you find the best spots and teach you the ropes.

By following these tips and utilizing the resources mentioned, you can ensure you have the right gear for a successful and enjoyable ice fishing adventure on Lake of the Woods.

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Cabins on Lake of the Woods
Cabins on Lake of the Woods
Also, check out our guide on Houghton Lake Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing Guides & Charters on Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods boasts legendary fish and stunning scenery, but navigating its icy expanse can be daunting. Enter the experienced hands of local guides and charter services, ready to elevate your ice fishing adventure to new heights!

Know Your Options:

  • Guided Ice Houses: Sit back and relax in comfort while experts handle everything, from transportation and setup to hot fishing spots and expert tips. Popular choices include Arnesen's Rocky Point, Zippel Bay Lodge, and Ballard's Resort.
  • Fishing Charters: For dedicated anglers seeking specific species or hidden honey holes, opt for boat-based charters like Melines Lodge or River Bend Resort. They offer targeted trips for walleyes, pike, or even sturgeon spearfishing.
  • True North Guide Service: Personalized charters with passionate guides guarantee an unforgettable walleye experience on the Canadian waters.
  • Shangri-La Camp Guide Service: Remote ice houses and seasoned guides offer unparalleled access to trophy walleyes and seclusion.
  • Kenora Sportfishing Adventures: Affordable charters focusing on walleyes, pike, and crappie, perfect for families and groups.

Choose the Right Guide:

  • Experience and expertise: Look for guides with extensive knowledge of the lake, different species, and ice conditions.
  • Target species: Choose guides specializing in your desired fish, whether it's trophy walleyes, feisty perch, or elusive pike.
  • Group size and preferences: Opt for guides catering to your group size and desired level of assistance, from complete novices to seasoned veterans.

Unveiling the Gems:

  • NW Angle: Border View Lodge and Rocky Island Resort offers guided access to this legendary walleye haven, known for its remote charm and trophy catches.
  • South Shore: Sportsman's Lodges and Wigwam Resort provide expert guidance on prime fishing spots near Warroad and Baudette, perfect for families and beginner anglers.
Visit the official Lake of the Woods Tourism website for a comprehensive list of guides, charters, and booking information.

Be prepared to share your desired species, experience level, and budget to find the perfect guide for your Lake of the Woods ice fishing dream.

Also, check out our guide on Gull Lake Ice Fishing
ice house rental
For a comfortable ice fishing experience, consider renting a heated fish house or a day house. These structures provide shelter from the elements and can be equipped with folding fishing chairs, cooking facilities, and even sleeping accommodations. Fish houses on Lake of the Woods are often placed in strategic locations known for a good catch, saving you the guesswork of where to fish.

Bites & Brews near Lake of the Woods

After battling icy giants on Lake of the Woods, warm your soul and replenish your energy with some local flavors. Here's a quick bite on where to eat!

Minnesota Side:

  • Warroad: Dig into comfort food at The Landing Bar & Grill or enjoy fresh fish at Zippel Bay Lodge. Don't miss the Lake of the Woods walleye, a local legend!
  • Baudette: Grab a hearty burger at Timberlane Lodge or savor wood-fired pizza at The Walleye's Den. Try the "Catch of the Day" pizza for a true taste of the lake.

Ontario Side:

  • Kenora: Indulge in Canadian classics at The Keg or explore international flavors at The Boathouse Waterfront Eatery. Their patio offers stunning lake views.
  • Rainy River: Experience the charm of Harris Hill Resort's restaurant or grab a quick bite at Cedar Hill Lodge's pub. Don't miss the smoked whitefish dip, a regional delicacy.
Sample local craft beers at breweries like The Bordertown Brewing Company in Warroad or Lake of the Woods Brewing Company in Kenora.

Check restaurant hours and availability, especially during peak season. Enjoy the food, the local stories, and the warmth of a post-fishing feast!

Also, check out our Ice Fishing guide on Leech Lake
fishes caught on lake of the woods
Fishes caught on lake of the woods

Beyond the Catch: Making Memories on the Ice

Your Lake of the Woods adventure isn't just about the thrill of the catch; it's about crafting unforgettable memories on the frozen wonderland. So, reel in some extra magic with these exciting activities and keep everyone hooked, from seasoned anglers to curious kiddos.

Ice Fishing Tournaments and Events:

  • Warroad's Annual Ice Fishing Derby: Test your skills and win big prizes at this iconic event in February. Grab your family and cheer on fellow anglers!
This derby will be held on Feb 17 this year and the prize for the largest walleye will be $1000. The prize for the largest pike and perch will be $500. The prize for the largest burbot will be $200.
  • Polar Fest in Kenora: Experience the vibrant ice fishing carnival in March, with fishing competitions, live music, and family-friendly fun.

Family-Friendly Activities:

  • Snowmobiling Adventures: Explore the vast frozen expanse on exhilarating snowmobile trails. Enjoy scenic rides, stop for hot cocoa in charming towns, and create breathtaking memories.
  • Ice Skating Extravaganza: Lace up your skates and glide across the frozen lake on designated rinks in Warroad or Kenora. Picture-perfect moments are guaranteed!
  • Charming Town Explorations: Discover the authentic charm of Warroad, Kenora, or Baudette. Browse local shops, sample delicious treats, and soak in the friendly atmosphere.

By blending the thrill of the chase with these enriching experiences, you'll create a holistic ice fishing adventure that your entire crew will cherish. So, gear up, embrace the spirit of Lake of the Woods, and make memories that will melt your heart long after the ice thaws!

Fishing Derby on Lake of The Woods
Fishing Derby on Lake of The Woods


Q: What is the best time to go ice fishing at Lake of the Woods?

A: The best time to ice fish Lake of the Woods is from early December through late March, with the peak walleye season occurring before the spring spawning period.

Q: Do I need a special license for ice fishing at Lake of the Woods?

A: Yes, you need a valid fishing license, and you should be aware of the specific fishing regulations for Lake of the Woods, including seasons and limits for different species.

Q: Can I rent equipment for ice fishing at Lake of the Woods?

A: Yes, many resorts and outfitters around Lake of the Woods offer rental equipment, including ice augers, rods, and heated fish houses for a comfortable ice fishing experience.

Final Thoughts

Ice fishing at Lake of the Woods is an adventure that combines skill, patience, and local knowledge.

By following the tips and insights from local anglers, you can maximize your chances of a successful and enjoyable ice fishing trip.

Remember to prepare adequately, respect the regulations, and embrace the community spirit that makes this ice-fishing lake a cherished winter attraction.

P.S. Don't forget to share your epic catches, heartwarming moments, and hard-earned wisdom with the ice fishing community. Spread the love for this incredible fishery and inspire others to embark on their own frozen adventure!
Ice Formation on Lake of the Woods
Ice Formation on Lake of the Woods

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