Target Walleye’s Top Ice Destinations


In the olden days (say, 1980s), you would have been considered a lunatic for packing up ice-fishing gear and driving it more than about an hour to try to catch some fish. Nowadays, thanks to the modern ice-fishing revolution driven by Dave Genz and a small group of cohorts, winter is every bit the fishing season that summer is. And so we go down the road, to new frozen waters.

1. Lake Winnipeg
Location: Manitoba
Primary Target Species: Walleyes

Lake Winnipeg has been made famous for its portly “greenback” walleyes that love to eat rattle baits. Not only does the lake kick out high numbers of fish, the average size it produces is absolutely ridiculous. You have an excellent chance at catching a 10-pound or better fish on each outing, and 24- to 26-inch fish are always possible. For that reason alone, this lake should be at the top of every hardwater angler’s bucket list. The lake stretches 258 miles across, though most fishing takes place on the south shore at the mouth of the Red River, roughly 30 minutes north of the city of Winnipeg. The hard-packed snow makes “Big Windy” extremely tough on equipment, but the rewards are greater than the risk.

2. Lake of the Woods
Location: Minnesota/Ontario
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Saugers, Crappies, Northern Pike

The sheer amount of walleyes Lake of the Woods has is beyond belief. The south shore of the lake is known best for its expansive schools of eater-sized walleyes and saugers that bite all day long. And don’t be surprised if you ice a true wall-hanger. And though popular, the lake fishes big—there’s no need to worry about overcrowding and playing bumper shacks. This border water offers an extended walleye season everyone should take advantage of. Lake of the Woods has also become a world-class pike-fishing destination during the March late-ice period. Mammoth pike will stage for the upcoming spawn in shallow bays, ready to pop tip-up flags. Believe it or not, 40-inchers are hardly considered “big ones” when the bite is on.

The Ontario side has a huge population of slab crappies. Multiple fish pushing 16 inches are a real possibility. If you get on the right school, you could pluck hundreds of fish, with the smallest at 13 inches, almost hard to imagine.

3. Devils Lake

Location: North Dakota
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Perch, Pike

As Jason Mitchell says, “The good days are as good as it gets” on this lake that just keeps growing. The toughest part is deciding which species you want to chase because there seems to be trophy-class everything. Devils Lake is a world-famous perch fishery with 15- to 16-inch jumbos being a real possibility. But you can’t overlook the outstanding walleye population with a year-round season. And leave the 6-inch auger at home; Devils is packed with freshwater shrimp and these have serious girth.

4. Lake Erie

Location: Ohio/Michigan/Ontario/Pennsylvania
Primary Target Species: Walleyes

Lake Erie has one of the best balances of numbers and big fish in the world. Millions of walleyes migrate back to the western basin in order to spawn after ice-out. Fish over 12 pounds are caught regularly when conditions are right. Erie doesn’t always freeze over, so you’ll need to take advantage of years where there’s good ice. Don’t be surprised if you see anglers scooting across the ice on airboats to maneuver over open-water patches and ice heaves—double-digit walleyes can make an angler do some crazy things. Bonus: Presque Isle Bay (5.8 square miles) is located in Erie, Pa., approximately 160 miles east of Sandusky, Ohio. Bass pro and ice fishing nut Dave Lefebre says the bay is loaded with 12- to 13-inch crappies, good-sized bluegills and jumbo perch.

“Any drop could be the next state-record jumbo or monster steelhead,” he says.

5. Glacial Lakes, in South Dakota

Location: Northeastern South Dakota
Primary Target Species: Perch, Walleyes, Bluegills, Crappies

The northeast region of South Dakota is home to hundreds of gravel-bottomed lakes, and the fish population strongly outnumbers the people. The 2-pound jumbo perch put this region on the map, but there’s truly big everything waiting to be caught in places such as Enemy Swim, Bitter, Waubay and Swan, but there seems to be a new slough no one’s ever heard of that emerges each season with the hottest bite and the biggest fish. You could spend years fishing little no-named potholes and hardly scratch the surface. Get familiar with this area.

6. Lake Michigan bays, harbors

Location: Wisconsin/Illinois
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Whitefish, Brown Trout, Steelhead

The Bay of Green Bay will keep you busy. Though it’s best known for its number of walleyes pushing 28-30 inches, the lake is also home to piles of whitefish that offer consistent action and a heck of a battle. Our recommendation: Target big walleyes during the low-light hours, then switch gears and nab your limit of whitefish during the day. The Milwaukee Harbor is home to the biggest brown trout and steelhead you’ll find anywhere. If you want an absolute battle, it’s the place to go. Several Chicago harbors offer excellent fishing opportunities when ice is good and thick. Two-time North American Ice Fishing champion and USA Ice Team gold-medalist Tony Boshold says, “You don’t have to hop on a train and leave for Devils Lake—the perch train starts in Chicago!” Jumbos up to 15 inches and at 2 pounds are even more fun to catch when there are skyscrapers in the background.

And, Big and Little Bays de Noc are home to giant walleyes. Need we say more?

7. Upper Red Lake

Location: Minnesota
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Northern Pike, Crappies

Upper Red Lake draws a crowd of avid ice-heads early because it’s usually one of the first lakes in the state to have fishable ice. In fact, most years, ice fishermen are already driving snowmobiles and ATVs on URL while boats are still out in other areas of the state. Upper Red Lake can sometimes feel like you’re fishing on an off-limits rearing pond. When the bite is on, the fish will bite whatever you drop down as fast as you can lower it. Many nights you’ll actually have to pull in the rattle reels if you plan on getting more than 3 minutes of sleep at a time. This walleye factory could likely be the best numbers lake for walleyes across the Ice Belt, but the average size has been rising—fish measuring in the low- to mid-20’s are becoming much more common on daytrips, which hasn’t always been the case. We’ve even seen several pics of fish measuring 28-30 inches from last season, so they’re out there.

If you get sick of catching walleyes, you can switch things up and chase trophy pike. They’re caught every day even though they don’t receive much pressure. Gators in the 40- to 42-inch range love big sucker minnows soaked under a tip-up just a few feet below the ice. If you remember the crappie boom of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, there are still a couple year- classes out there. More anglers are sneaking out in March after the walleye season has closed and are fishing for (and catching) those super-tall slabs. You’d be hard pressed to catch one less than 13 inches.

8. Lake Gogebic

Location: Michigan
Primary Target Species: Perch

You may be able to catch more jumbos out in the Dakotas, but Gogebic will likely catch you the biggest perch of your life, as fish up to 2 1/2 pounds are caught each winter. The perch grow so fat locals call them “teeter pigs” because you can set them on their stomachs and they don’t teeter over. Finesse is the name of the game here; don’t forget to bring the deadstick.

9. Fort Peck Reservoir

Location: Montana
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Northern Pike, Lake Trout

This place isn’t for the faint of heart: it’s rugged, remote and kicks out big everything. Anglers say one of their favorite parts about fishing here is that they’ll catch big walleyes, northern pike and lake trout all out of the same hole using the same baits. You may not see another angler for days, so hopefully you bring at least one buddy with you to take your picture—selfies aren’t easy when the fish’s is half as long as you are.

10. Leech Lake

Location: Minnesota
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Perch, Burbot, Panfish

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These are the good ol’ days on this multi-species paradise. It’s arguably one of the best walleye fisheries in the Upper Midwest, but the jumbo perch fishing is on the rise. Stay out after dark and you’ll likely have the best fishing of your life—for eelpout. The average size and number of burbot in this lake is mind-blowing. People are finally realizing that burbs offer one of the most fun fishing opportunities there is through the ice, and Leech Lake is the place to be.

11. Tobin Lake

Location: Saskatchewan
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Northern Pike

A great place to come if you’re looking to break the provincial record, as it’s been broken time and time again here. In fact, the current Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame world ice fishing-record walleye was caught here in 2005 and weighed a ridiculous 18.3 pounds. You pike-fishing guys will be happy to know that it’s also home to pike over 25 pounds with the potential for ones flirting with 50 inches.

12. Mille Lacs Lake

Location: Minnesota
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Perch, Pike, Crappies

This lake has tons of walleyes in it and they seem to bite all day and night. The best part is you never know when you’ll pluck a big 25- to 28-incher out of the school or run across some bonus jumbo perch, which are on the rise. Many world-class pike are caught each season, and the secret is now out that the lake’s crappies grow to gigantic sizes and can be specifically targeted in the southern bays. This is just a small preview of what makes “The Big Pond” a must-fish body of water through the ice.

13. Mississippi River backwaters

Location: Wisconsin/Minnesota/Iowa
Primary Target Species: Perch, Crappies, ‘Gills

The hundreds of miles of backwater bays offer some of the most overlooked fishing opportunities anywhere for big panfish. It’s usually a shallow-water bite out of the current, and you’re lucky if you even see another angler.

14. Lake Metigoshe

Location: North Dakota
Primary Target Species: Bluegills

Tucked within the scenic Turtle River Mountains in north-central North Dakota, Metigoshe consistently kicks out trophy-sized bluegills at 10 inches. The deepest spot is just 24 feet, with an average depth of 11, so they have plenty of room to grow. It took nearly a 1-pound average (16 fish) over two days to win the last NAIFC event here.

15. Last Mountain Lake

Location: Saskatchewan
Primary Target Species: Walleyes

Also known as “Long Lake,” this is one of the best drive-to walleye fisheries around, and is the place to be for early ice. Eight- to 10-pound walleyes are good, but hardly picture-worthy here as big walleyes up to 15 pounds are caught each year and several 12-pounders are yanked out daily.

16. Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario

Location: Ontario
Primary Target Species: Walleyes

Bay of Quinte is a long, narrow bay on the north shore of Lake Ontario that’s home to monstrous walleyes—several fish over 14 pounds are iced each year. It receives little fishing pressure when compared to other trophy-walleye fisheries.

17. Glacial Lakes, N.D.

Location: North Dakota
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Perch, Northern Pike, Panfish

Lots of good ice lakes—big and small—seem to get hidden in Devils Lake’s shadow. Lakes Irvine, Alice, Dry and Stump, and this duck pond or that flooded field, all are home to above-average-sized everything. Don’t be afraid to try the smaller no-named sloughs. You’ll strike out a few times, but it can pay off tremendously when you hit a home run.

18. Rainy Lake

Location: Minnesota/Ontario
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Crappies

The number of quality walleyes you can catch in a single hour is worth the trip, and there are lots of fish in the mid- to upper 20’s. There’s no shortage of 15-inchers, or better, slab crappies roaming around. If you catch one you’re likely onto a whole pile of ‘em.

19. Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron

Location: Michigan
Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Perch, Lake Trout

If you’re looking to catch a lot of walleyes with some quality in there, plan on visiting Saginaw Bay. Also, think about taking advantage of the awesome fishing for other species too, like perch and lake trout.

20. Lake Superior

Location: Wisconsin/Minnesota
Primary Target Species: Lake Trout

Ever wrestle a tank through the ice? Head here to have a shot at it. You’ll have the time of your life trying to fight and land double-digit lakers in Superior. Just make sure you have the right gear.

Honorable Mentions
Lake Simcoe, Ontario. Primary targets: Perch, Lake Trout, Panfish
Great Slave Lake, NW Territories. Primary Targets: Lake Trout, Northern Pike
Big Stone Lake, Minn./S.D. Primary Target Species: Perch
Lake Winnebago, in Wisconsin. Primary Target Species: Walleyes
Okoboji, Location: Iowa. Primary Target Species: Bluegills, Perch
Detroit Lakes Area, Minnesota. Primary Target Species: Crappies, Bluegills
Delaney Buttes Lakes, in Colorado. Primary Target Species: Rainbow Trout
Pymatuning Lake, Pennsylvania. Primary Target Species: Crappies
Red Lake, Ontario Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Northern Pike, Lake Trout
Williams Fork Reservoir, Colorado. Primary Target Species: Northern Pike, Lake Trout, Rainbow Trout
Castle Rock/Petenwell lakes, Wisconsin Primary Target Species: Walleyes, Crappies, Northern Pike
Lake Champlain, in Vermont. Primary Target Species: Mixed Bag
Fox Chain O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, Illinois. Primary Target Species: Bluegills, Crappies, Perch
Edinburg Lake, Pennsylvania. Primary Target Species: Crappies
Big Sandy Lake, Minnesota. Primary Target Species: Crappies
Chautauqua Lake, New York. Primary Target Species: Crappies, Perch, Walleyes
Bowstring Lake, Minnesota. Primary Target Species: Crappies, Perch, Walleyes
Copper Harbor, Lake Superior, Michigan. Primary Target Species: Splake
Lake Granby, Colorad. Primary Target Species: Lake Trout
Lake Osakis, in Minnesota. Primary Target Species: Crappies, Bluegills, Walleyes
Jackson Lake, Wyoming. Primary Target Species: Lake Trout
Dry berry Lake, Ontario. Primary Target Species: Lake Trout
Lake Willoughby, Vermont. Primary Target Species: Lake Trout
Lake Bemidji, Minnesota. Primary Target Species: Perch, Burbot, Walleyes
Sebago Lake, in Maine. Primary Target Species: Lake Trout
Lake George, in New York. Primary Target Species: Salmon, Yellow Perch