Obviously, the U.P. is almost always your best bet for early-season ice fishing, with this year’s warmer weather, that will be even more true. Let’s go through my best four options for early-season ice adventures.

Lake Gogebic

Located in the far Western U.P., it is one of the finest perch fishing lakes anywhere in the Midwest. Early season on Lake Gogebic offers a big variety of fish. I like to hit the bays searching for a mixed bag of walleye, perch, crappie, and bluegill. Some of the best fishing is in front of Timber’s Resort, which is quite handy, seeing as Tim and Sarah at Timbers resort have one of the finest family-owned resorts anywhere on the lake.

The best early presentations that I found were finding weed patches and edges close to a little bit of open water. I like to fish with small presentations when targeting the early season. Whether it’s teardrops and waxies or a very small jigging spoon with a minnow head or a simple live minnow below a bobber, all these presentations catch fish in the early season and Lake Gogebic.

If you’re searching for walleye, minnows are the key. Perch on this lake run quite large as an average, and they’re also very susceptible to the minnow presentation. Ice usually forms and is usually safe by Christmas, which makes this a great spot to head out for that early season trip.

So, give one of the local resorts a call, make sure you have safe ice, and then head up for some very fun early-season action. If you’re concerned about finding a good bait supply, the Timbers Resort has an on-site bait store and tackle shop and has everything you need for
a successful trip out on the hard water.

Marquette Co. offers great pike fishing.

Marquette County

This county probably offers some of the best early season ice fishing in the U.P. I’ve chatted on several occasions with Mike from Marquette Adventures guide service. Mike tells me he’s always on the ice by Christmas and specializes in taking groups or families out to experience the awesome early season mixed bag available.

Marquette County lakes are extremely diverse, offering excellent ice fishing for northern pike, walleye, and all varieties of pan fishing. Mike usually targets smaller lakes early as they freeze up much more quickly. Setting up a nice spread of tip-ups with a lively minnow for northerns is a very good “first step” game plan. After you get the tip-ups set along the weed edge (hopefully by a shallow drop-off), then you can get to the task of drilling holes and setting up your jigging spots.

Mike likes to set up for panfish in and around shallow weeds during the early season. The traditional methods all work; small tungstens with waxies are always a great bet. When jigging, one of my favorite things is to have a minnow below a bobber as a “dead stick” just a couple of feet away from where I’m jigging. Many times, the jigging will bring the fish in, but then they’ll end up hitting the dead stick with its ultra-subtle presentation.

There are tons of great small resorts and hotels in Marquette and some great eating establishments. If you’re looking for a guided adventure, give my friend Mike a call at Marquette Adventures.

Big and South Manistique Lakes

I’ve fished these two lakes extensively over the last 30 years. They offer some wonderful mixed bag fishing during the early season. Big Manistique Lake is a very shallow lake maxing out at only 20 feet. Most of the lake is 7 to 9 feet deep and offers lots of weed edges, gravel bars, and structure for great winter fishing. Walleye, perch, bluegills, and northern pike are the primary targets.

Like many other lakes, I always set up as many tips as legally allowed to increase the fish catching activity and take advantage of some tasty northern. I know northern pike can be a pain to clean, but to be honest, cold-water winter northern are very good eating, and they are plentiful; and besides, the locals would definitely be happy if you took some of them out of the lake.

Some of the best spots for fishing in the wintertime are the structure areas around the islands scattered throughout the lake and the drop off from Burnt Island to the Log Cabin Resort and Campground. Fish the deep edges on either side of Anderson Bar as they are great places to fish. Another good spot is Helmer Bar directly out from the H-33 boat ramp.

I pretty much use a variety of different size minnows when fishing this lake. Whether you’re on Big Lake or South Lake, it seems like big minnows catch northern pike, medium minnows catch walleyes, and smaller minnows catch the panfish. I don’t use too many wax worms when I fish here unless I’m specifically targeting panfish in the weeds.

If you’re looking for good bait, The Fish-n-Hunt Shop in Curtis has got live bait, as does Mick’s Bait and Tackle at the top of the hill. Many good small resorts dot the lake, and many stay open year-round to service ice fishermen and snowmobilers alike. So, as they say, “It’ll never hurt us to go to Curtis,” especially if you’re ice fishing.

Lake of the Woods Baudette, MN

Lake of the Woods is one trip that I take every single year! As of December 9, there was safe ice out a good distance onto Lake of the Woods. This is an awesome fishery for traditional guys who like to fish with jigs and minnows, with a rod in hand. My friend Brian Ney, owner of Adrian’s Resort, has an awesome resort, and like all the other resorts in the Lake of the Woods region, rents both daily heated ice houses and sleeper units. The sleeper units have become very popular because people sleep, cook, and literally stay in them for days. This maximizes the fishing experience and saves money on renting a cabin. Of course, lots of people like to get off the water in the evening and clean their fish and have a burger and a beer, and just relax, I know I do.

My sons and I have been making the trip to Baudette every year since the early ’90s. This year, we’re going in March, as this is probably the best time of year to get those fish that are moving back toward the river mouths and current areas that flow into Lake of the Woods. March can be an awesome time of the year to come and fish, especially because, in more southern regions, the ice is already deteriorating or is gone.

If you’re looking for a unique experience filled with walleye and sauger catching as well as a new adventure, get on the Lake of the Woods Tourism website, www.LakeoftheWoodsMN.com/Lodging and check out which resorts have availability when you want to come and make your plans to visit! Without a doubt, this is one of the best walleye and sauger fishing destinations anywhere on the planet.