Drill, Jig, Reel: Unveiling the Secrets of Red Lake Ice Fishing

Reel in trophy walleye, battle fierce pike, and experience the magic of Red Lake ice fishing. This guide unlocks hot spots, gear tips, safety reminders, and more! Plan your epic adventure today!

Ice fishing on Red Lake in Minnesota is an adventure that combines the serenity of a frozen landscape with the thrill of the catch.

If fat walleyes pulling drag, plump crappies flashing scales, and the thrill of battling a trophy pike under the frosted sky is your idea of a fun-filled winter then visit Red Lake for some prime action.

Whether you're a seasoned angler or a novice to the sport, keep reading to find all the essential information to make your ice fishing trip to Red Lake a success.

Key Takeaways

→ Preparation is Key: Understand the importance of preparing for the cold snap and high winds typical of Red Lake ice fishing conditions.

→ Know Your Fish: Familiarize yourself with the fish species in Upper Red Lake and the techniques to catch them.

→ Local Insight: Utilize local resources such as fish house rentals, bait shops, and guides to enhance your ice fishing experience.

Preparing for Your Ice Fishing Adventure

Before you set foot on the ice road leading to your fishing spot, it's crucial to be well-prepared. Ensure you have the proper clothing to withstand the cold and snow.

Layering is your best defense against unpredictable weather, with a focus on insulation and waterproof gear.

Safety equipment such as ice picks and a personal flotation device should also be part of your gear, especially when venturing onto the ice in the early season or during thaw periods.

Frozen Red Lake on January
Frozen Red Lake on January
Be sure to read the latest ice reports, as there have been many reported incidents on Red Lake this year. With the continued rise of temperatures, the late season can be risky unless you follow all safety protocols.

Timing Your Trip

The ice fishing season in Red Lake typically runs from early December through late February and early March, but this can vary based on weather conditions. The best fishing often occurs early in the morning or late at night when the fish are most active.

Early Ice (December):

  • Ice: 4-8 inches, use caution and check thickness regularly. Be cautious, especially in the Upper Red Lake area. For ice conditions to improve, you need plenty of cold temperatures and no snow so watch the weather reports.
  • Species: Walleye (morning & evening), Crappie (afternoon), Perch (all day).

Mid-Winter (January):

  • Ice: 10-18 inches, generally safe for most vehicles.
  • Species: Walleye (all day), Pike (morning & evening), Crappie (afternoon).

Late Ice (February - early March):

  • Ice: 6-12 inches, but be mindful of changing weather conditions.
  • Species: Walleye (morning & evening), Crappie (afternoon), Perch (all day).

Ice conditions vary greatly, so check local reports and exercise caution. Also, check the ice quality: avoid vehicles like ATVs or snowmobiles if it's white or slushy ice. Even the standard 4" for walking is unsafe if the ice is slushy.


Ice Thickness

Popular Species (Time of Day)


Early Ice

4-8 inches (use caution)

Walleye (mornings & evenings), Crappie (afternoon)

Dress warmly, use cleats, check ice thickness frequently.

Prime Season

8-18 inches

Walleye (all day), Crappie (afternoon), Perch (dusk)

Enjoy longer daylight hours, and be prepared for cold and wind.

Late Ice

6-12 inches (proceed with caution)

Walleye (mornings), Pike (afternoons), Crappie (variable)

Be aware of deteriorating ice, warmer temperatures, and potential slush.

Keep an eye on local weather reports and ice conditions, as high winds and snow can affect the ice's stability. Always seek permission before accessing private property or resort areas.

A portable ice house is  a great option for a weekend ice fishing trip
A portable ice house is a great option for a weekend ice-fishing trip

Budgeting for Your Ice Fishing Trip

Budgeting for your ice fishing trip involves accounting for lodging, gear rentals, bait, food, and potentially a guide service. Prices vary widely, so it's best to research and set a budget that meets your expectations.

Weekend Trips: Aim for a 2-3 day trip. Focus on the prime season for optimal ice conditions and fish activity. Lodging options range from basic ice houses to comfortable resorts, impacting costs. Expect to spend $300-$800 per person, covering essentials like guide fees, licenses, basic gear rentals, food, and lodging.

Extended Adventures: Plan a 5-7 day trip. Explore different ice conditions and target multiple species across early, prime, or late seasons. Consider self-catered cabins or houseboats for a budget-friendly option. Budget $500-$1,200 per person, factoring in longer stays, potentially pricier guides, and additional gear needs.

Budget Savvy Anglers: Opt for early or late ice for potentially lower guide fees and lodging costs. Consider shared ice houses or DIY setups to split expenses. Focus on essentials like licenses, basic tackle, and warm clothing. Allocate $200-$500 per person, remembering that self-sufficiency keeps costs down.

Additional Tips

Book early: Popular dates fill up fast, especially in prime season.

Gear rentals: Consider renting key equipment instead of buying for short trips.

Research: Compare guide services, lodging options, and local regulations

Pack smart: Bring versatile clothing, layers, and essentials to adapt to changing weather.

Be flexible: Ice conditions and fish activity can vary, so have backup plans.

Remember to factor in the cost of a Minnesota fishing license and any additional fees for using resort facilities or ice roads.

ice conditions to avoid on red lake
Avoid going to ice if you see a condition like these.

Lodging Options

When planning your trip, consider the variety of lodging options available around Red Lake. From cozy family-run resorts to larger properties with more amenities, there's something for every group size and budget.

Near Baudette (West Shore):

  • Budget-friendly: Baudette offers motels and hotels like Baudette Inn (simple comfort) and The Woods (lake views) within town limits. Nearby: Sportsman's Lodge (cozy cabins) and Lake of the Woods Resort (rustic charm) provide direct lake access.
  • Mid-range: Baudette Bay Lodge (comfortable rooms, on-site dining) and The Edgewater Hotel (stunning lakefront views) cater to those seeking more amenities.
  • Luxury: Indulge in spacious suites and top-notch service at The Islander Inn.
JR's Corner Access is one of the most popular ice-fishing resorts located on the southeastern shore of Upper Red Lake in Minnesota. They offer well-equipped, clean, and comfortable ice houses to rent. They also have a heated fish cleaning facility and a bar and restaurant that serves a lip-smacking fish fry.

Near Kelliher (North Shore):

  • Budget-friendly: Kelliher boasts affordable options like The Pines Motel and Frontier Lodge (basic amenities). Explore nearby: Birch Lake Lodge (quaint cabins with lake access) and Frontier Cabins (rustic and self-catering).
  • Mid-range: Experience lakefront lodging and delicious home-cooked meals at Scenic House Resort.
  • Luxury: Embrace tranquility at Island View Resort, offering private cabins and stunning island views.

Near Waskish (East Shore):

  • Budget-friendly: Waskish welcomes budget-conscious anglers with motels like Hilltop Lodge and Waskish Motel. Nearby: Lost Bay Campsites (rustic camping) and Sportsman's Haven (cabins with ice fishing packages) offer adventure.
  • Mid-range: Immerse yourself in the wilderness at Scenic Pines Resort (comfortable cabins) or Lakeside (affordable lakefront rooms).
  • Luxury: Pamper yourself at The Waskish Bay Inn (modern amenities, spa services) or Sandy Shores Resort (lakefront cabins with boat rentals).

Additional Tips

• Houseboats: Rent one for a unique experience with on-the-water lodging and easy fishing access. Available near Baudette and Kelliher.

• Ice Houses: Enjoy immediate access to prime fishing spots by renting directly on the lake. Offered near all major towns.

Small towns like Birchdale and South Junction offer limited options but provide a local feel and convenient access to specific areas.

Many resorts offer fish house rentals, ranging from basic shelters to luxurious sleeper houses with heating, bunks, and even an oven to cook your catch. Make your reservation well in advance, especially if you plan a weekend getaway.

Frozen surface of the Red Lake
The frozen surface of the Red Lake

Target Species on the Lake

Upper Red Lake is renowned for its walleye and crappie populations. Anglers also have the chance to catch northern pike and perch.

The east side of the lake is popular for its accessibility and abundance of fish. However, don't overlook the south and north ends, which can be hotspots, especially when the central areas become crowded or slow.



Time of Day

Popular Spots


All season, peaks

Mornings & evenings

Throughout the lake, esp. reefs, points, flats


All season, peaks


Shallow areas, weed beds, brush piles


Late season


Rocky shorelines, humps, deep water structure


Early & late season


Reeds, bays, weed edges, deep holes


Early & late season

Throughout the day

Deep structure, humps, points

Garmin STRIKER Plus 4 Will Ensure Maximum Success on Ice
Garmin STRIKER Plus 4 Will Ensure Maximum Success on Ice

Fishing Hotspots and Reaching Them

Red Lake's vastness holds countless hotspots for ice anglers, from established favorites to hidden honey holes waiting to be discovered. Some popular picks include:

  • West Shore:
    • Pike Bay & Redgut Bay: Early-ice havens for walleyes near rocky shorelines and sunken islands. (Accessible from Kelliher, follow signs toward public access points.)
    • Black Bay: Late-ice hotspot for walleyes and pike around deep weed edges. (Accessible from Baudette, follow County Road 11 west.)
  • East Shore:
    • Birch Point & Sunken Island: Mid-lake favorites for walleyes and saugers near reefs and underwater humps. (Accessible from Waskish, follow signs towards public accesses.)
    • Starvation Island: Late-ice hotspot for walleyes and pike around structure and deeper basins. (Accessible from Red Lake Village, follow County Road 14 north.)

Less Common Spots:

  • Flag Island: Nestled near the northwest shore, it is known for jumbo perch near weed beds and rock piles. (Accessible from Kelliher, requires longer ice travel and local knowledge.)
  • Sandbar Reef: Located southeast of Birch Point, it offers excellent walleye and sauger action near deep breaks and reefs. (Accessible from Waskish, requires some navigation and local knowledge.)
  • Seven Sisters Islands: Cluster of islands in the northeastern part of the lake, known for trophy pike and late-ice crappie near shorelines and structure. (Accessible from Red Lake Village, requires advanced ice travel skills and local knowledge.)

Reaching the Ice:

  • Snowmobiles and ATVs: Popular choices for navigating the vast ice expanse. Ensure they are registered and equipped for ice travel.
  • Ice trucks: Available for hire in nearby towns like Baudette and Kelliher, offering convenient transportation and gear hauling.
  • Guided trips: Many outfitters provide fully guided experiences, including transportation, equipment, and expert knowledge. It is ideal for first-time visitors or those seeking specific spots.


  • Respect private property: Stick to public access points and avoid areas marked as no trespassing.
  • Leave no trace: Pack out all trash and respect the natural environment.
  • Ice safety first: Always check ice thickness before venturing out and dress appropriately for the harsh conditions.
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.
Be aware of the signs of dangerous ice: Avoid cracks, pressure ridges, white ice (weaker), and areas near moving open water or inlets.

Gear Rentals & Local Bait Shops

Successful ice fishing on Red Lake requires the right techniques and gear. For those without equipment, gear rentals are available at various locations around the lake. Local bait shops can provide the latest information on what's biting and the best bait.

Consider using a flasher or fish finder to locate fish and underwater structures, increasing your chances of success. Also, pick a portable propane heater that will provide warmth and comfort in extreme cold.

Technique Tips:

  • Jigging: Master the art of jigging, varying your technique and lure presentation to entice bites. Jigging with live bait or soft plastics can be effective for walleye and crappies. Research specific jigging styles for your target species.
  • Tip-ups: Use tip-ups for passive fishing, a popular choice for those targeting pike, strategically setting them with live bait near promising spots.

Buying vs. Renting:

  • Own your gear: Ideal for frequent anglers, allowing customization and long-term cost savings. Towns like Baudette, Kelliher, and Waskish boast well-equipped bait shops like Jig Box, Pete's Corner Bait & Tackle, or Zippel's Merc & Marine, which offer a wide selection. They will also give you expert advice.
  • Rent your gear: Convenient for first-timers or short trips. Many resorts and outfitters like Lake Country Outdoors, The Islander Inn or Sportsman's Lodge provide rentals at competitive rates.
While Augers, portable shelters, and heaters are essential for comfort and mobility, don't forget to pick safety gear like ice picks, spud bars and floatation devices.

Besides finding essential ice fishing gear, local bait shops are also great places to hear stories from other anglers and get tips on the hottest fishing spots. Remember to match your gear to your target species and skill level.

Guides & Charters

Hiring a guide or charter can significantly enhance your ice fishing experience, especially if you're new to the sport or the area.

Choosing the Right Guide:

  • Consider your experience: Beginner-friendly guides offer instruction and support, while experienced anglers might seek targeted expertise.
  • Target species: Guides specialize in different species (walleye, pike, crappie). Match your preferences.
  • Budget: Rates vary depending on services, guide experience, and group size. Research and compare options.
  • Services offered: Some guides provide transportation, equipment rentals, on-ice assistance, and fish cleaning. Choose based on your needs.

Top-Rated Options:

  • RLK's Upper Red Lake Guide Service: Highly regarded for personalized guiding, excellent knowledge of the lake, and focus on sustainable fishing practices.
  • Red Lake Adventures LLC: Provides deluxe fish house rentals and guide services, focusing on comfort and convenience.
  • Bear Paw Guides: Family-owned business with years of experience on Red Lake, offering guided fishing, ice house rentals, and bear hunting tours.

Guides can provide valuable insights into fish behavior, help you locate the best fishing spots, and ensure you have the right gear. They can also assist with fish cleaning and provide lessons on ice safety.

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Bites & Brews

After a long day on the ice, there's nothing better than warming up with some local bites and brews. The area around Red Lake features several eateries and pubs where you can enjoy hearty meals, share stories of the day's catch, and relax with fellow anglers.

Warm Up and Chow Down:

  • The Islander Inn (Baudette): Savor hearty classics like meatloaf and walleye dinners in a cozy lodge setting.
  • Sportsman's Lodge (Waskish): Fill your belly with their famous "Northwoods Skillet" - a meaty, cheesy delight.
  • Red Lake Snack Shack: Grab a quick, hot bite like their legendary burgers or fries near Black Bay access.
  • Kelliher Mercantile: Don't miss their homemade breakfast burritos - perfect fuel for early risers.

Local Flavor:

  • Jiggles (Baudette): Indulge in a true "up north" experience with their Friday night fish fry - a local tradition.
  • Waskish Bay Market: Stock up on fresh, smoked fish and local treats like wild rice bars for DIY meals.
  • Baudette Dairy Queen: Treat yourself to classic ice cream cones or sundaes - a sweet ending to a successful day.
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In the community surrounding Red Lake, MN, ice fishing is as vibrant and dynamic as any other winter sport. Understanding the local customs and practices can enhance the experience for newcomers eager to join the ranks.

On any given Monday or Thursday, you might notice a fleet of vehicles heading in the same direction—towards the lake's prime fishing spots. Follow the seasoned anglers' lead, but remember to give them room; crowding someone's fishing hole is frowned upon. Instead, seek out your space to drill holes and set up your tip-ups without interference.

Engaging with the community can also mean participating in local events or visiting bait shops where the past week's haul talk is as common as discussing the weather. The area hosts various winter events that can add fun to your trip. From ice racing to snowmobiling, there's plenty to do if you want to take a break from fishing or if the bite is slow.

Don't be afraid to ask for directions or advice; most anglers are excited to share their knowledge with those new to the sport. You might hear about a hot spot that's been producing well or learn about an effective technique.

Local bait shops often serve as informal meeting points where guests and groups can exchange stories, plan outings, or enjoy the camaraderie that comes with a shared passion for ice fishing.

Don't forget to check out our Devils Lake Ice Fishing guide
You'll love the Ice Fishing Community of the Red Lake area
You'll love the Ice Fishing Community of the Red Lake area

FAQ Section

Q: Do I need a special license for ice fishing on Red Lake?

A: Yes, you will need a valid Minnesota fishing license, which you can purchase online or at local bait shops and sporting goods stores.

Q: Can I bring my own ice house to Red Lake?

A: Yes, you can bring your own ice house, but follow all regulations regarding transport, placement, and removal from the lake. Check with local resorts for specific rules about using their ice roads and accesses.

Q: What is the best time of day for ice fishing on Red Lake?

A: Early morning and late evening are typically the best times for ice fishing on Red Lake, as fish are more active during these periods. However, fishing can be productive throughout the day, depending on the weather and fish behavior.

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

Final Thoughts

Ice fishing on Red Lake is an unforgettable experience that offers both challenge and reward. With the right preparation, knowledge, and respect for the environment and local regulations, anglers can enjoy a successful and enjoyable fishing trip.

Remember to stay connected with the ice fishing community through platforms like Facebook, where you can share your experiences and learn from others.

Whether you're a seasoned veteran or a curious newcomer, remember this: Red Lake welcomes you with open arms and icy depths teeming with possibilities. Pack your sense of adventure, heed the wisdom in these pages, and prepare to embark on a journey you'll never forget.

Red Lake
A mesmerizing view of the Red Lake

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