By Larry Whiteley
We have been having high temperatures in the teens and single digit temperatures at night here in Missouri and that doesn’t count the wind chill index.
In my old age I don’t like being cold so I’ve been day dreaming a lot lately about going fishing some place where it’s nice and warm. But, I’m not thinking about warm beaches, blue oceans and saltwater fishing. I’m thinking about calling my friend Joe Henry, the Executive Director of Tourism at Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, and booking an ice fishing trip to “The Walleye Capital of the World”.
As I write this on a Sunday morning in southwest Missouri the temperature in Baudette, MN, is minus 29 and the high is going to be minus 18. Plus they have a wind chill warning. So you’re probably saying “You got to be crazy Whiteley because there is no way you can be warm fishing in temperatures like that.”
When someone who has never been ice fishing thinks about it they imagine sitting outside over a hole in the ice bundled up in so much clothing you can barely move and still being cold. At Lake of the Woods people from all over the country come to experience ice fishing because instead of fishing in the cold you fish in the warm.
After you check-in to your toasty warm resort you get into heated track rig transportation. They take you across ice up to several feet thick to your personal ice fishing house that has been placed where the guides know the fish are. The ice fishing holes have already been drilled for you and your fishing equipment and bait are waiting. Once inside your insulated ice fishing house you will be taking off some of your clothes because the thermostat is set at a very comfortable 70 degrees.
Now the fun begins! You pull up your seat, grab your fishing rod and lower your bait into the hole. It usually doesn’t take very long before you feel a tug on your line and set the hook. Usually a delicious walleye comes up through the hole but it could also be an equally delicious sauger, yellow perch or crappie. You could even be surprised with a huge northern pike.
Joe tells me that you might hope that tug on your line is an eelpout. A member of the cod family and also called burbot, it is affectionately known as "Poor Man’s Lobster" because of its firm flesh, high fat content and mild, buttery taste. Take the backstrap and tail meat from the fish, boil it in either salt water or 7UP and then dip it in melted butter just like you would lobster. It’s an ugly fish with a large belly and eel-like tail but locals say their true beauty is in the eating.
Ice guides will come around and check on you and at the end of the day they will pick you up in the warm track rig and transport you and all your fish back to the warmth of the lodge. They even clean your fish and the resort will cook them up for you if you would like.
You might want to even catch a transport back out on the ice to check out the famous Igloo Bar at Zippel Bay Resort. This popular spot offers a big screen TV, a full bar and limited hot food menu. For a small fee you can even ice fish in the bar.
For a really special experience consider staying in one of the sleeper fish houses with a furnace and cook stove fueled by propane as well as comfy bunk beds. Joe says, “It’s like ice camping but in the warmth and with all of the amenities. Spending a few nights on the ice i
s cozy and good for the soul. It is so neat stepping outside of the fish house on a clear night and seeing stars and the Milky Way like they have never been seen before. The sky is absolutely awe inspiring and if you’re lucky, you might even see the northern lights.”
I think a sleeper fish house is what I want to do. Imagine with me catching fish all day, cooking them up on the stove, enjoying the night sky, getting a good warm night’s sleep out on the ice, and then getting up the next morning in my underwear and catching more fish. Now I am sure you don’t want to think about that last image so O.K., I’ll wear a bath robe.
This beautiful area of Minnesota offers great fishing year round with anglers traveling thousands of miles to fish these waters. Besides the fish already mentioned you can also catch smallmouth bass, muskie, lake sturgeon, lake trout, lake whitefish, tulibee, as well as white suckers and redhorse which is another story for another time.
I was at an Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers conference at Sportsman’s Lodge in Baudette, MN back in September of last year and all of us writers and even our wives caught lots of walleye, sauger and even lake sturgeon while fishing the Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River that runs by the lodge.
The warm winter ice fishing though sounds like something really special that needs to be added to my “bucket list” so I am going to call Joe at (800) 382-FISH (3474) as soon as I finish this article and book a warm ice fishing trip to Lake of the Woods, Minnesota.
After looking at all the pictures Joe sent me of him with fish it is obvious he has a really tough job. I might just have to ask him if he needs a good Lake of the Woods Assistant Director of Tourism to help him out with all those fish.
If you want to try warm ice fishing or the great fishing at other times of the year you can go to their web site at www.LakeoftheWoodsMN.com for more information.