Guide to Planning EPIC Ice Fishing Trips in Minnesota

Ice Fishing Trip MN - Kid jigging for panfish

Looking to plan some epic ice fishing trips in Minnesota? This article will provide you with everything you need to know to plan a trip, hire a guide, find an awesome resort, and have the time of your life!

So read on and get ready to schedule your next Minnesota ice fishing vacation!

What is Ice Fishing?

Ice Fishing Trips in Minnesota - Kid kissing a fish

Ok. For those of you who didn’t type “Planning an Ice Fishing Trip in Minnesota” into the old Google, we’d better set the stage.

When most people think about fishing, they think about blue skies, blue water, sunscreen, and maybe a Corona or two. If you live in Minnesota, more often than not, we think of fishing as sitting on a 5 gallon bucket on the ice jigging for hours on end through a small hole.

Ice fishing is what us cold-weather climate folks do to pass the time when the days are short, the temps are cold, and the lakes are frozen. In its most simple form, it involves cutting a hole in the ice and dropping a line into the depths of a lake, hoping something bites.

An ice fishing trip in Minnesota is a chance to relax, enjoy time with family and friends, play cards, and enjoy a cool, if not frozen, drink of your choice.

Ice Fishing Trips in MN

Kids checking their holes while on an ice fishing trip in Minnesota

Ice fishing in Minnesota is primarily done on one of our 10,000+ lakes, however the big rivers, like the Mississippi River, do freeze over and are great fishing destinations.

If you have your own gear, then you can hit any lake, river, or pond that you’d like. If you don’t, then you are going to be looking for a guided experience.

Most guides are based on larger lakes or areas where the tourism infrastructure is well-built out. This makes it easy to plan a vacation around you fishing excursion, even if you are not from MN.

A note on safety: Ice is inherently dangerous and never 100% safe. Your guide will be able to give you insight into current ice conditions and any safety concerns. Please pay attention!

A Primer on Fish Houses

Man drilling an ice hole next to a pop-up ice house while ice fishing in MN

Whether you will be fishing on your own, or will be on a guided ice fishing trip, you are going to be staying in some sort of shelter. It is just too cold most of the winter to sit exposed on a wide-open lake! Amenities can range from a bucket for a seat to a flat screen TV, coffee maker, and cable TV.

Heated fish houses are usually kept warm with propane heat and have fishing holes drilled into the floors. You can choose between day houses or a sleeper fish house, the latter coming with everything you need to spend a night on the lake (a once in a lifetime experience!).

Ice fishing houses houses come in three different styles:

  1. Portable Ice Shelters – These are the traditional pop-up style shelters (see image above). They are made of cloth and fold down to be pulled in a sled. This is what our family uses, but is not what you would get from a guide or outfitter. Pop-ups are favored by ice anglers that like to move around to find the fish.
  2. Permanent Ice Fishing Houses – These are like little sheds. They are food framed, insulated, and build like a tank. They are pulled out onto the lake on built-in skis or wheels and are left all winter long. They are heated, have electricity, and often have bunk beds and other amenities. Many guides and resorts use them.
  3. Fish House RVs – These are by far the most expensive and luxurious. They look like a pull-behind camper but are designed to be lowered onto the ice. They have the same amenities as a camper but with holes in the floor so you can fish. It is rare to see a guide using these due to the cost. A common brande is Ice Castle and they come with full amenities including sleeper houses and full kitchens.

Choosing a Lake for your Ice Fishing Trip in Minnesota

Kids jumping on the lake while on an ice fishing trip in MN

Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 lakes, and for a reason! There are countless lakes and ponds in this state. That being said, most guided ice fishing trips are concentrated on a couple of large lake systems.

The 10 most popular lakes for ice fishing trips in Minnesota are:

  1. Lake of the Woods – Lake of the Woods is a legendary fishery with over 14,000 islands and 65,000 miles of shoreline. It is on the US/Canadian border, right in the middle of the state. There is a reason it is called “The Walleye Capital of the World.”
  2. Mille Lacs Lake – Mille Lacs is the second-largest lake in MN and the closest large lake to the Minneapolis St. Paul metro area. It is the easiest if you are flying into MSP airport and holds good populations of Walleye, rock bass, pike, jumbo perch, muskie, and small mouth.
  3. Lake Winnibigoshish – It is known as one of the best ice fishing lakes in MN with world-class fishing for jumbo perch, walleye, and crappies. The lake is located in north-central MN on the Leech Lake Reservation and covers more than 67,000 acres.
  4. Upper Red Lake – It is Minnesota’s largest inland lake, covering more than 288,000 acres. It is split into Upper and Lower portions. The Upper portion is known for top-quality walleye fishing.
  5. Lake Vermilion – Known for its idyllic scenery and rust-colored waters, Lake Vermilion has everything from muskies and northern pike to crappie, perch, small mouth bass and bluegills. In our opinion, it is one of the most beautiful lakes to fish given its location in Northern Minnesota
  6. Gull Lake – Home of the Ice Fishing Extravaganza, Gull Lake is a fishing mecca. Anglers come from all over the world to try their luck. It sits in the Brainerd Lake Region, which is home to thousands of cabins and great local towns like Nisswa and Brainerd.
  7. Leech Lake – More low-key than the Gull Lake, Leech Lake is known as having one of the world’s top walleye fisheries. It used to be home to the eelpout festival, which I attended with my Dad every year. If you are into night fishing, it is a great place.
  8. Rainy Lake – Another US/Canadian border lake, Rainy Lake is known for is superb walleye fishing. It has plenty of resorts and cabins for rent and gives you a taste of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
  9. Big Stone Lake – This one is on its own on the MN/SD border, but is great for catching perch. If you are looking for something different, then Big Stone Lake is a great choice.
  10. Lake Minnetonka – Staying in the Twin Cities but would like to try ice fishing? Then Lake Minnetonka is for you. It is a great fishing lake and is only 15 minutes west of Minneapolis, which means easy access. You’ll spend your day catching fish and admiring mansions of Minnesota’s rich and famous!

Click HERE for a more complete list of the best ice fishing lakes in MN.

Choosing Your Guide & Lodging

Kids sitting in an ice house while ice fishing in MN

So you’ve decided on the type of fish you want to catch and the lake or area of Minnesota you’d like to visit. Now what? Now you need to pick the right guide and your fish house rental company.

The best way to find a good guide is to find the larger resorts on each lake. That way you know they will have enough gear and experience AND you can stay at the resort at night. Many have a restaurant on site, plenty of other activities for you and your family, and ice house rentals.

Most guides and resorts offer everything you need. Services include ice house (fish house) rentals, ice fishing packages, fish cleaning, live bait, etc.

Below is a short list of larger resorts or guides on the lakes above that should give you a good starting point.

  1. Lake of the Woods
  2. Mille Lacs Lake
  3. Lake Winnibigoshish
  4. Upper Red Lake
  5. Lake Vermilion
  6. Gull Lake
  7. Leech Lake
  8. Rainy Lake
  9. Big Stone Lake
  10. Lake Minnetonka

What Should You Bring?

Family dressed warm catching a fish while on an ice fishing vacation in MN

Your guide will supply all of the ice fishing gear like poles, tackle, bait, etc. They often will provide food too. You will be in charge of keeping yourself warm and content! The only rule, no cotton. Favor synthetic or wool clothing.

  1. Warm, waterproof boots – Many lakes will have a slush layer under the snow. We recommend Arctic Muck Boots
  2. Multiple Layers of clothing – Think base layer, mid layer, insulated jacket and snowpants, and a wind layer
  3. Warm mittens – We like leather “choppers” with wool liners
  4. Thin gloves – Wool or neoprene work well when you need finger dexterity but want some warmth
  5. Warm hat and face cover – Just in case that wind picks up you’ll want a neck warmer or balaclava with your warm hat.
  6. Cooler – Usually you supply your own beer/drinks. So bring a cooler and fill it with drinks and snacks.
  7. Camera – Bring your phone or camera just in case you land a lunker!
  8. Fishing License – All adults need a fishing license in MN. They are sold at all gas stations, hardware stores, and sporting goods stores. Pay attention to local regulations as not all fish can be caught all year round and some have size restrictions. Your guide or resort will have all of this information.

What To Expect?

Truck parked on the ice while on an ice fishing trip in Minnesota

Typically, you will either drive out onto the frozen lake in your vehicle or the guiding service will bring you in theirs. Don’t worry, the ice is likely 2-3 foot thick! There will be snowplows and fully maintained ice roads. For many non-Minnesotans, this can be quite the shock.

Your guide is going to set up your rods and reels, bait your hooks, change your tackle, etc. He or she is charged with doing everything they can to help you land some fish! While they cannot guarantee anything, they are pretty good at it.

You’re going to end up sitting in your warm shack for a long time. Sometimes fish bite, sometimes they don’t. We like to chat, play cards, go for a walk outside, and in general enjoy the peace and quiet.

It is all worth it when you see a monster coming up through that 8-10″ hole in the ice!

Conclusion

Kids playing cards while ice fishing in Minnesota

Ice fishing is a unique and fun way to pass the time in colder climates. It is a chance to relax, enjoy time with friends and family, and hopefully catch some fish.

Whether you are a seasoned fisherman or have never caught a fish in your life, we think you’ll love it. It is also a great way to introduce kids to the outdoors and teach them that just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it!

So bundle up and plan an EPIC ice fishing trip in Minnesota! Then step into your heated fish house and enjoy.

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We are the Quills! An ordinary family sharing our extraordinary travel experiences. 

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