Skip to Content

Ice Fishing on Lake of the Woods (A Complete Guide)

Ice Fishing on Lake of the Woods (A Complete Guide)

Lake of the Woods is a paradise for ice anglers, and every year, thousands of them come here to fish for trophy walleye, which is the lake’s most popular target species.

But that’s not all you can hook up to on LOTW! The lake also holds plenty of northern pike, crappie, perch, lake trout, whitefish, and sauger.

As this is one of America’s biggest freshwater lakes, I wrote this helpful and complete guide about ice fishing on Lake of the Woods. 

It will help you gather all the information and tips you need for a fantastic ice fishing experience. 

This in-depth article contains expert tips from local LOTW guides on:

  • locations
  • species
  • fishing methods
  • ice fishing seasons
  • best guides, rentals, and bait shops
  • fishing regulations and licenses
  • ice safety

Let’s get started!

Where Is the Best Ice Fishing on Lake of the Woods?

an ice angler on lake of the woods with a giant walleye
Courtesy of Paul Hacault

Whether you’re fishing the big southern bays, Rainy River, the island-rich Northwest Angle, or the area around the big western islands, Lake of the Woods offers plenty of excellent opportunities for ice fishing. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas of the lake:

The Big Southern Bays

The big bays in the southern and western parts of the US/Canada border lake, including Buffalo Bay (Manitoba), Muskeg Bay (Minnesota), and Fourmile Bay (Minnesota), hold plenty of fish as they are both shallower and richer in vegetation. 

Those bays are gigantic and cover a lot of water, so be ready to drive your truck onto one of the Lake’s ice roads to get to your intended fishing spot. 

Rainy River

Rainy River mouths into Fourmile Bay and supplies Lake of the Woods with roughly 75% of its water. It generally freezes over and has thick, solid ice, allowing thousands of ice anglers to fish it for various predators that follow the big baitfish schools that enter the river during the winter. 

It is possible to fish Rainy River from both sides of the border, although, much like on LOTW, different regulations can and generally apply. 

Check the section on regulations, limits, and licenses further down in the article for more detailed information. 

The Northwest Angle

This is one of Lake of the Wood’s most famous ice fishing areas. The Northwest Angle is a part of the lake that includes more than 14.000 smaller and bigger islands, which gives you an idea of the size of this water body. 

And of course, plenty of islands mean plenty of features, which, in turn, equals a ton of fish in that most interesting of areas of LOTW!

Also, the Angle is a relatively remote place of the lake that many anglers ignore.

While you will often find thousands of ice houses along the south shore of LOTW, the Angle might only have a hundred, or sometimes even only a few dozens or so of them.

And so, as there is so little fishing going on, the anglers who do decide to head out to the Northwest Angle will often be well-rewarded!  

The Eastern Islands

The eastern part of LOTW, on the Canadian side of the border, is, similar to the Angle, a relatively uncharted area of the lake that offers fantastic fishing opportunities. 

The entire area between the big islands, including Bigsby, Dawson, Basil, and Splitrock Island, and the mainland holds a lot of fish and has relatively little fishing pressure. 

Additionally, LOTW’s only resort open during the wintertime is located in this area. You can find out more about this resort further down in this article!

Now, let’s see what species you can catch on LOTW and what areas you should target to catch them!

What Fish Can You Catch Ice Fishing on Lake of the Woods?

Walleye

a fisherman on LOTW holding a really big walleye
Courtesy of Paul Hacault

If there is one fish species that Lake of the Woods is known for, both in the US and Canada, it’s the walleye!

In fact, LOTW is considered by many to be one of the best walleye ice fishing locations in the entire world.

This partly explains the extremely high number of anglers and ice houses that can be found all over the lake during wintertime.

LOTW walleye can reach impressive sizes, and fish of 25 to 30 inches that weigh well over 10lb are pretty common! 

This is both thanks to the walleye population’s good gene pool, the abundance and variety of forage, and the sheer size of the lake. 

Where to catch them

Walleye can be found all over LOTW, but both the Northwest Angle, the Western islands, and Fourmile Bay/Rainy River are areas of the lake that stick out, both regarding the amount and size of the fish. 

The Angle has plenty of islands, but the walleye that hang out around here are even greater in number! The same can be said of the area off the big islands in the eastern part of the lake. 

No matter if you’re closer to the shore or fishing further out in the main basins; find those structures and you’ll find the walleye! Especially if you can locate some of the lake’s reefs! Those are often real hot spots for eyes!

Similarly, Rainy River can hold an impressive amount of walleye during the winter as they follow the baitfish up and down the river system. 

How to catch them

Start in shallower water with a maximum depth of 15 to 20 feet and, as always when it comes to eyes, try to target underwater structures. On cold days, or toward the end of the season, the fish tend to hang out in the open, deeper water further out in the lake.

Make sure to use a 10-12lb fluorocarbon leader of at least 2 feet, as the walleye here can be pretty line shy!

Jigs, smaller spoons, and live fathead minnows, chubs, or shiners are excellent bait choices for LOTW walleye. Minnow-tipped fireball jigs especially are a deadly weapon for big LOTW walleye!

Northern Pike

an ice angler on lake of the woods holding a big northern pike
Courtesy of Wes Harder

There are plenty of good-sized pike swimming around in LOTW, and many anglers target them successfully through the ice. 

You can even hook up to one of the lake’s trophy northern pike with a bit of luck, as a fair number of 40+ inchers are caught here every year.  

Like the walleye, the northern pike in Lake of the Woods enjoy a superb genetic pool and an abundance of food. 

The average pike will have a size of about 15-25 inches and an approximate weight of 5-10lb. 

But be ready! You just never know when you might find yourself fighting a giant of 20lb or more!

Where to catch them

LOTW pike can often be caught near the perch schools, as they are common prey for pike in this lake.

The later the ice season, the more the pike will be drawn to their spawning grounds, and during that period, you can find around the southern bays, in the deep pockets and backwaters of Rainy River, as well as the shallower grounds of the main basins.

How to catch them

Again, if you want to catch lots of pike, your best bet is finding the perch!

Put out a few tip-ups with strong and reliable quick-strike rigs and present a dead smelt or herring in various depths. 

If you don’t get any bites, don’t remain in one area but move around your tip-ups and try out different locations until you find the fish. I find that an active approach like this often yields much better results! 

Perch

Courtesy of Seth Djernes

Perch are a pretty common catch on LOTW and can be found all over the lake. 

On average, the perch here have a length of 8-12 inches and a weight of about 0.5-1lb.

Where to catch them

The perch tend to be found near the walleye hot spots, and ice anglers can often fill both their walleye and perch limits during a day on the ice. 

If you can’t catch them near the walleye structures or on Rainy River, stick to areas with currents (between the many islands of the Angle and the westernmost part of the lake) and the big basins further out in the lake. 

How to catch them

Most perch can and will be caught on your smaller walleye jigs. 

Common perch jigs and small ice spoons will produce a lot of bites as well. Even more so, if you tip them with maggots, which is one of the top winter baits for perch on Lake of the Woods.

Lake Trout

a fisherman ice fishing lake trout on lake of the woods
Courtesy of Andre Charron

Lake of the Woods is a regular paradise for lake trout! And even though most ice anglers will target walleye here, there is a good number of lakers being caught through the ice every year. 

And mark my words, LOTW lake trout can get really huge! 

Their average size is between 4 and 8lb, but double digits beyond 15, or even 20lb and 30 inches are possible! 

Where to catch them

The lake trout on LOTW tend to keep to the deeper regions of the lake. Keep to the lake’s main basins and try to find depths of 40 to 70 feet and you have a good chance of finding lakers!

Occasionally, they will also go shallower when they hunt for smaller baitfish outside the big southern bays. 

If you’re targeting that area and are after lake trout, use your electronics and locate the big schools of baitfish. Most likely, that’s where the lakers will hold up as well!

How to catch them

LOTW lake trout can be caught on a variety of ice fishing lures. Some of the most popular ones include spoons, such as the classic Mepps Syclops, jigs, or Rapala’s Rippin Rap and Rattlin lures.

As the deeper water is often crystal clear, make sure to pick natural lure colors that match the hatch and use a fluorocarbon leader so that the fish won’t spook. 

Honorable Mentions

a bunch of crappie from an ice fishing trip on lake of the woods
Courtesy of Paul Hacault

Lake of the Woods also has large and vibrant populations of the following fish species: 

  • Crappie
  • Whitefish
  • Burbot
  • Sauger

When Is the Best Time to Go Ice Fishing on Lake of the Woods?

Many anglers and local guides agree that January usually is the best time for ice fishing on Lake of the Woods. But a regular season is much longer than that!

The ice fishing season on LOTW typically starts around the beginning of December and ends late March or early April, depending on the weather and condition of the ice. 

At the start of the season, most anglers will keep close to the shore and the shallower bay areas. 

As the season progresses and the ice gets thicker and safer, the action spreads all over the lake.  

Do Fish Bite at Night on Lake of the Woods?

As the shallower areas of the lake, where most of the fishing is taking place, are generally quite stained, night ice fishing on Lake of the Woods is relatively pointless, as visibility becomes extremely low and the fish will cease to bite.

That’s the reason you’ll see a lot of pop-up shelters on LOTW, even though there are plenty of permanent shacks as well. They just remain dark and quiet during nighttime. 

Where Is Lake of the Woods Located?

Lake of the Woods is a US/Canadian border water located where the US state of Minnesota and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario meet.

The lake’s Northwest Angle is the northernmost part of the contiguous United States.

Most US anglers and charters will launch from the southern shoreline, while their Canadian equivalents will launch from somewhere along the southwestern shoreline of the lake.

The following locations are frequented starting points on LOTW:

  • Warroad
  • Long Point
  • Birch Beach
  • Zippel Bay
  • Wheelers Point
  • Morson/Hanson Bay

Lake of the Woods GPS Coordinates

48.6944° N, 94.9265° W

Best Ice Fishing Charters on Lake of the Woods

Southwestern Area: Wes Harder Guide Service

a permanent ice shack on lake of the woods
Courtesy of Wes Harder

Wes is a highly experienced guide, and he was kind enough to supply me with a lot of tips on how to ice fish on LOTW. 

His areas of expertise are predominantly walleye and northern pike in the areas around the southern bays, but he’ll catch you anything that swims around in LOTW! 

Going through the hundreds of pictures of satisfied customers on his homepage, you’ll spot plenty of huge walleye. 

So, if you head out on the ice with Wes as your guide, you know that you’ll get an ice fishing experience of a lifetime! 

Launch location

Wes launches mainly out of Warroad near Muskeg Bay. He has plowed roads leading to his hot spots and shacks.

Rates

Please check the Wes Harder Guide Service website for detailed information on ice houses, rates, and packages.

Rentals

  • Day shacks
  • 2-man and 4-man sleeper shacks
  • Vexilar fishfinders

Contact

Phone: 218-242-0416

Email: wpharder84@gmail.com

Eastern Area: Tamarack Island Wilderness Lodge

a female angler sitting on a snowmobile on lake of the woods
Courtesy of Paul Hacault

Tamarack Island Wilderness Lodge is the only resort in the eastern parts of LOTW that’s open for ice fishing. 

Their accommodations and guide service is superb, and the lodge is located in an area of the lake that enjoys an abundance of fish and, at the same time, very little fishing pressure. 

Note: This is a wilderness trip! No ice roads, no crowds! Access will be by snowmobile which they have available for rent if you do not have your own.

If you fish with them, you’re guaranteed to experience an amazing and unique ice fishing trip in one of North America’s most beautiful and breathtaking landscapes.

And your chances of hooking up to an enormous walleye will increase a lot as well, by the way! 

Launch location

The guides launch out of Morson, Ontario. More specifically, out of Hanson Bay, about 8 miles northwest of Morson. 

Rates

Please check the Tamarack Island Wilderness Lodge’s rates section for more detailed information.

Rentals

  • Portable shacks
  • Permanent shacks
  • Cozy lodge cabins
  • Snowmobiles

Contact

Phone: (204) 437-2541 (Home) / (204) 792-2097 (Cell)

Email: tamaracklodge.lotw@gmail.com

Southern Area: Sportsman’s Lodge

an image of Sportsman's Lodge near Lake of the Woods
Courtesy of Sportman’s Lodge

Sportsmans’ Lodge is conveniently located near Fourmile Bay at the Rainy River, close to the lake’s southern shore. 

Its excellent accessibility and reputation have resulted in thousands of satisfied anglers who’ve used their services to catch more and bigger fish on Lake of the Woods.

If you’re fishing with the Sportsman’s Lodge crew, you’re in for a full-day, all-inclusive ice fishing experience that you’ll never forget. They really think of everything:

  • Heated fish houses (some with bathrooms)
  • Transportation to and from your fishing spot
  • Jig sticks
  • Baits
  • Jigs
  • Fish cleaned and delivered right to your room or cabin (awesome service!)
  • Available early December through the end of March

Launch location

Transportation is provided from the Lodge to your fish house and back. They run on a groomed trail for most of the year away from the plowed roads. Tracked ATVs or snowmobiles can follow out if you prefer, no vehicles.

Rates

Please check the Sportsman’s Lodge website for detailed information on rates, ice houses, cabins, and meals.

Rentals

  • Day shacks
  • Sleeper shacks
  • Cabins(lodge rooms
  • Fishfinders

Contact

Phone: 218-634-1342 or  800-862-8602

Email: book@slodges.com

Northwest Angle: Jake’s Northwest Angle

Jake’s ice fishing services will help you succeed in the remote Northwest Angle. These guys know this area of LOTW like the palm of their hand!

There isn’t much fishing going on up there and the spots Jake’s crew will bring you to are considered some of the best on the entire lake! 

Less fishing pressure means better fishing for you, so make sure to take advantage of Jake’s and their experienced guides if you want to target the Angle!

They’ll transport you to a ready-and-waiting heated fish house in a Bombardier from Jerry’s Restaurant. Every couple of hours, the Bomber drivers, Paul or Big Mike, will stop by, re-supply bait if needed, and move you to a more productive house if possible.

Launch location

They’ll transport you to a ready-and-waiting heated fish house in a Bombardier from Jerry’s Restaurant. Every couple of hours, the Bomber drivers, Paul or Big Mike, will stop by, re-supply bait if needed, and move you to a more productive house if possible.

Rates

Please visit the Jake’s Northwest Angle website for more detailed information about accommodations, ice houses, and rates.

Contact

Phone: 1-800-729-0864

Email: dcolson@wiktel.com

Best Bait and Tackle Shops Near Lake of the Woods

Outdoors Again in Baudette

409 Main Street
Baudette, MN 56623

Phone: (218) 634-3344

Email: outdoorsagain@wiktel.com

The Woods Outdoor/Sporting Goods in Warroad

34480 550 Ave.
Warroad, MN 56763

Phone: 218-386-2590

Hours: Monday – Saturday
9:00am—6:00pm CST

Helpful Gear Tips for Ice Fishing on Lake of the Woods

If you decide to head out on your own and need to gear up, this section of the article might be helpful to you.
Bringing the right equipment onto the ice is essential both for your fishing, comfort, and security.

All of the items below can be found on Amazon if you want to take a closer look:

Lake of the Woods Fishing Regulations

For information about seasons, minimum lengths, and bag limits for Minnesota waters, please check the Minnesota DNR’s LOTW and Rainy River Information section.

For information regarding seasons, minimum lengths, and bag limits for Ontario waters, please check Ontario’s Fisheries Management Zone 5 section.

Please visit the Manitoba Recreational Angling Strategy Guide for seasons, minimum lengths, and bag limits for Manitoba waters.

Where Can You Buy a Fishing License for Lake of the Woods?

an ice angler in a fish house on lake of the woods holding a huge walleye
Courtesy of Wes Harder

Conveniently, you can buy your fishing license for Lake of the Woods online.

Minnesota

For Minnesota waters, please visit the Minnesota DNR’s Online License Sales page

Ontario

For Ontario waters, please check the Ontario Fishing and Hunting License section

You will always have to purchase an Ontario Outdoors Card together with your fishing license.

Manitoba

If you’re fishing Manitoba waters, you’ll need a Manitoba fishing license that you can buy via the Manitoba eLicensing website

Please note that you will need a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit if you are a US citizen and want to fish on the Canadian side of Lake of the Woods. 

You can find out more about an RABC permit here.

How Thick Is the Ice on Lake of the Woods?

On average, the ice thickness on Lake of the Woods is about 15 to 25 inches. 

That said, you should ALWAYS check the latest ice and fishing reports for the lake before heading out. 

The following websites publish weekly fishing reports from LOTW:

PRO TIP: If there aren’t any recent updates to be found online, please make sure always to contact a fishing charter, lodge, or bait shop to get the latest information on ice conditions and safety! 

Best Lake of the Woods Ice Fishing Forums

There are several Lake of the Woods Fishing FB groups. Here, you can read about the latest fishing reports, see what others have caught, meet up with other ice anglers, or just share your own ice fishing experience from LOTW.

Check them out on Facebook:

Related Ice Fishing Articles

Featured image courtesy of Adam Dankers

Crappie Fishing in Muddy Water (Best Lures, Baits, and Colors)
← Previous
Ice Fishing on Lake Nipissing (A Helpful Guide)
Next →