Options for Ice Fishing Adventures at Lake of the Woods

With decades under my belt at sport shows meeting fishermen from across the Midwest, a few questions seem to come up more than others. In the context of ice fishing, one of those questions usually sounds something like, “My buddies and I want to go ice fishing on Lake of the Woods—where should we stay?”

The variations are my, wife, family, grandpa, uncle, girlfriend co-workers, etc., you get the picture; the list is long. That’s because fishing has a way of bringing people together. The conversation that follows usually is about finding out what type of trip that person is looking for.

Full-service ice fishermen
By far, the most popular route when it comes to ice fishing trips is “The Walleye Capital of the World.” And the resorts there have workers with decades of knowledge and top equipment designed to deal with the ice conditions, from early ice to last ice. When you pull up to a warm fish house with the holes drilled and fish on the screen, what you don’t see is the thousands of hours that have gone into setting up ice roads and those houses. Catching fish is what makes the world go ‘round in the winter at Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods.

With around 50 resorts plus hotel lodging options, the area hosts up to a thousand fishermen at a time. Most resorts offer lodging/fish house packages where your house, bait, transportation are included in the package. Basic packages are two-, three- and four-night stays. Many resorts do offer midweek discounts too. Early Ice, before the big houses are out and at the very end of the season, one can find cabin-only options at some resorts. Those with a bar and restaurant will also offer meal plans.

Fresh, quality food is a common theme around the LOW, with breakfast being especially popular. The cook-your-catch option is also a favorite where you can eat some of your day’s catch in the restaurant. Many resorts offer fish cleaning and packaging as part of the service here. You simply tell them you are having some cooked, they’ll clean them and bring the fish right into the kitchen to wait for your specific order, or how you want it exactly prepared. You can also bring in fish you have cleaned yourself to be prepared.

Winter limits are four walleyes and saugers, so eating some will also help keep that bag limit open. Walleyes between 19 1/2 and 28 inches must be released. When with a group, keeping track of 40 to 60 cleaned fish can be a large task, so the cleaning service is convenient plus the licensed packers here can clean saugers with the “standard” method. Otherwise, saugers must be cleaned with fillets and skin attached to their tail, backbone and dorsal fin; head and entrails can be removed. Your limit is a total of all walleyes and saugers in possession in your icehouse and your cabin.

Lodging options vary these days, and you can find some top-shelf accommodations at LOW. Modern, spacious cabins with all the comforts of home are available, and some accommodate over 10. These are popular with large groups and for those with various corporate outings. The resorts are spread out along the Rainy River, the south shore on to rocky point, in the Northwest Angle and onto the shores of the islands.

One of the variations you’ll see in the full-service experience is in the transportation to and from a fish house. Many types of vehicles are used throughout the winter, from light-tow vehicles pulling heated wagon houses early in the season to large bomber and track vans making long treks later in the season. Some resorts use a road system where guests can drive their own vehicle out on their pre-plowed, serviced roads as part of the package stay. The drive-yourself method does allow you to fish more on your own schedule, whereas the other methods may have a set pick up and drop off schedule.

Sleeper house rentals
Most of the resorts also offer sleeper house rentals along with a number of sleeper-only ice operations. With all the fish house rentals, including sleeper fish houses, the resort staff will check in a couple times a day with you to make sure things are going well there.

With this option, when you stay right out on the lake you’ll be the first to be fishing in the morning. They are often equipped with rattle reels so you can set for fishing overnight too. Lake of the Woods is much more a daytime fishery; it’s an active location after dark for walleyes. Odds are you’ll find an eelpout pulling on your line as well if you’re fishing overnight.

In the sleepers, you have easy access to the ice roads, so it’s easy to run back ashore for some nightlife or a bite to eat. Some resorts also have a shower/laundry room for sleeper customers. These locations are warm, and are equipped with lights and a stove. Also, bunks in the houses can sleep four to six people and have their own bathroom. If you are working with a tighter budget, these just may be the answer. Also, on weekends when resorts and hotels are full, it’s an option that still allows you to go fishing. These are great to use as a base camp for fishing with snowmobiles, ATV’s or portable fish houses. Most sleepers are based on a daily rate, and some resorts do require a two-day minimum on the weekends. The average sleeper house stay is two to three days.

Fish house, sleeper house checklist
The list is meant for sleeper-house fishing trips, but some items are must-haves or just nice to possess when staying at a resort and fishing from a day house: Sleeping bags and blankets, pillows, dishes, silverware, pans for cooking, water, dish soap, a tub for doing dishes, towels for drying them, a cooler for food and drinks, a fillet knife, bags for fish fillets, paper towels, extra toilet paper, generator (not required) fishing rods, tackle and electronics, a battery operated radio, etc. Bait is usually supplied with the sleeper house rentals. And remember, drinks will freeze if left outside overnight or for long periods in the day, so get everything inside that you don’t want frozen solid.

Fishing on your own
Another popular way of getting at the lake’s walleyes is to bring up wheelhouses for the stay. You see a lot of them going to or coming for this lake. There are four to five ice roads available where you can pay an access fee and head out for some action. Slots are plowed off the main road system for wheelhouses to back into a setup for a weekend or a midweek stay. Bait and tackle stores provide baits, gas and supplies need for the adventure too. No wheelhouse—no worries. Many people just stay in one of the hotels, as most are in Baudette and just a short drive from the ice road access. Again, you will have to pay a day road pass fee, but once you are on the ice you can travel on a nice, plowed road to your fishing grounds. Most often, people still bring their portable icehouses, heater and equipment and set up in one of the pre-cut parking slots off the main road. You will need to drill your own holes, so extensions for an electric, plug-in ice auger, if you use them, will be needed the later the season gets. It is a little more work, but well worth the effort.


For information on resorts and the ice fishing action at Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, visit lakeofthewoodsmn.com. They also have a newsletter/blog you can sign up for that is very informative about the fishing, lodging options and other things happenings in the area.