Embracing the Cold & Catching the Big One: Ice Fishing on Lake Mille Lacs

The 132,500-acre Lake Mille Lacs is the second largest inland lake in Minnesota (which is saying a lot). About 100 miles north of the Twin Cities, it offers a fantastic winter destination for the whole family (see here). Containing the smallest National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. (two small islands in the middle of the Lake), Mille Lacs is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, some bear, quail, grouse and pheasant.

HISTORY

Mille Lacs is also known to archaeologists as one of the earliest sites of human settlement in Minnesota, as copper tools thought to be over 5,000 years old have been found around the lake. Various tribal groups lived around Mille Lacs throughout history, most notably the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe, who settled in the area between 1745 and 1750.

In the late 1870s, the timber industry boomed around the area, and began Lake Mille Lacs’ transformation into the “sportsman’s paradise” that it’s known as today. Well-known for camping, resorts (see here), beaches, hunting, golf and of course…fishing. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) guide to Minnesota says “Walleye and northern pike abound, as do perch, whitefish, bass, and crappies.” Fishing tourism has long been the most critical aspect of the area’s economy, and the Lake does not disappoint.

During the winter, thousands of ice-fishing houses sprawl throughout Mille Lacs. Luckily, the Lake is so large there is plenty of room to set up camp. During especially cold Novembers, the Lake is frozen by Thanksgiving, but normally ice fishing starts in the first week of December near the shore. By late winter, Mille Lacs is frozen all the way across, with ice sometimes three feet thick. Lake roads are plowed for easy access. The melting season usually begins in March.

If you’re travelling to Mille Lacs, or don’t have your own fish house, there are plenty of rental options. Guides are available year-round as well, enhancing your experience by putting you smack-dab in the middle of the hottest spots on the Lake. The Minnesota DNR also allows darkhouse spearing of northern pike, tullibee and rough fish. Darkhouses are painted black inside, reducing light and allowing the spearer to see all the way to the lake floor. While you may not get as many fish, spearing does allow you to be more selective, and is a tradition passed from Native Americans to European settlers.

TODAY’S CATCHES 

Many anglers on Mille Lacs are interested in walleye fishing. While nothing beats talking to the locals at the bait shop on the best strategies, here are a few quick tips to get the most out of your experience:

  1. Walleye are generally most active during the changing light conditions of sunup and sundown. Chances are, you’ll catch more walleye during dawn and dusk than any other time.

 

  1. Walleye are generally found a few feet from the bottom of the lake (luckily, Mille Lacs is shallow, with a 42-foot max depth). They will likely hang close to lake structures like points, rock piles and humps. They want fast access to deep water, so steep breaks are great spots as well. Trying drilling multiple holes in multiple depths for the best opportunities.

 

  1. Jigging (raising your rod about a foot and dropping) is imperative to catching walleye. Jigging attracts the fish, but they often won’t bite until the lure stops. Try raising and dropping the tip, then waiting a few seconds before doing so again (http://www.ice-fishing-source.com/walleye-tips-techniques.asp).

Finally, be sure to check the local fishing regulations here. Walleye currently has a limit of one over 28”, due to significant changes in the aquatic system. The Minnesota DNR is working to increase the walleye population as quickly as possible, so hopefully regulations will be eased soon. Northern pike and bass fishing is available, but has limits as well.

Please let us know about any experiences you have in the Lake Mille Lacs area. If you’re into fishing (or many other activities) you won’t regret a trip to Lake Mille Lacs this winter!

Our Top 6 Things To Do In Northern Minnesota This Winter

Let’s face it, when you’re thinking of a winter vacation, your first thought probably isn’t on Northern Minnesota. Most of us would like to take a long break in a tropical paradise, but it’s often not feasible. Luckily, there are plenty of fun options in the Upper Midwest, even if you’re not necessarily escaping the frost. Minnesota is a winter haven for outdoor activities, and offers plenty of indoor destinations if you’re not the winter sports type. Take a gander at the list below, and let us know in the comments if you have experienced any of these adventures yourself. Hopefully this will give you an idea of just how enjoyable a Minnesota winter can be!

Ice Fishing –

It’s no secret that Minnesota has lakes. 11,842 of them in fact. Many of those lakes offer some of the best ice fishing in the world (seriously). You can even rent an ice house if needed, bare-bones or stocked with heaters, stoves, bunks and your very own bathroom. Lake Mille Lacs, in Onamia, is home to mighty walleye and northern pike, and has plenty of open area for you to stake your claim. You can even spearfish northern pike on one of the largest lakes in the entire state. If you need a place to stay check out, our blog on Soo Line ( https://vacationmor.com/2017/01/06/take-a-soo-line-trail-weekend-vacation-this-winter/. )

Duluth –

Duluth is spectacular in the winter. Yes, the weather can be harsh, but a visit to Canal Park or skiing the many slopes around the area will make you rethink winter fun. Lake Superior offers an unmatched charm, and the restaurants will melt the chill with comfort food. Shopping is sensational throughout the area as well.

Snowmobiling –

There’s a reason the open road is so appealing. It gives us a chance to clear our minds, leaving behind the traffic and monotony of daily life. Snowmobiling through a secluded forest on the Soo Line Trail is the epitome of a mind-clearing getaway The trails are open December 1 – April 1, are well groomed and take you through miles of open wetlands, farmlands and woodlands. Even if you’re not into snowmobiling, it’s a trip you don’t want to miss.

Highway 61 Revisited –

Take a cruise up Lake Superior’s North Shore to experience a scenic drive that changes every year. The charming small towns along the way only add to the ambiance, and you’ll find a distinct beauty driving it in the winter. You’ll find treasures you never knew existed.

Hiking/Snowshoeing –

Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the scenery! Minnesota has miles of well-kept trails that will give you a reprieve from the treadmill. Check out Sibley State Park in west-central Minnesota, where Mount Tom presides. There are a variety of landscapes to enjoy, including lakes (of course), farmland, forests and prairie knolls. You can also rent snowshoes (only 6$ per day) and get some truly fresh air in the open countryside.

Festivals –

The Twin Cities are chock-full of winter festivals, but Northern Minnesota has the most fun. Where else can you partake in a toilet seat toss? Icebox Days in International Falls (Jan. 19-23), the International Eelpout Festival (an ugly, bottom-dwelling fish, Feb. 23-26) and the Grumpy Old Men Festival (Feb. 25, conflicting) all have ice-fishing contests, polar plunges and much more debauchery. Simply put, Minnesotans know how to have fun, and will be happy to have you join in the revelry.

Of course, there is also skiing, skating and camping to be done. Hopefully this list is a jumping-off point for you. Minnesota is an incredible state to explore, even in the cold heart of winter. Enjoy!

This Weekend, Try Soo Line Trail Campground!

Winter is what we make of it. It’s often difficult to escape the drab monotony of never-ending snow, small windows of daylight and clenched fists on icy roads. If we let it, winter can really get to us mentally, physically and emotionally.

 

Maybe we don’t have the money to get away and take the family on a two-week vacation to the Bahamas. We might not have the time for a road trip to California. If so, we need to embrace winter rather than escape it. If we can leave the day-to-day toils of home-life behind, even for a weekend, it can give us the rejuvenation we need to make it to spring.

 

It may be time to check out Midwest Outdoor Resort’s (MOR) Soo Line Trail Campground. This is the only MOR getaway that is open on weekends in the winter. Located in Onamia, MN (about 90 miles Northwest of the Twin Cities), minutes from Lake Mille Lacs, the Soo Line Trail Campground has plenty to offer, even during Jack Frost.

 

Lake Mille Lacs –

 

Lake Mille Lacs offers fantastic fishing (especially Walleye, Northern Pike, and Bass), no matter the season. Rent an ice fishing house if needed, or explore one of the many charming towns around the lake. Onamia is the gateway to Lake Mille Lacs, and offers the jumping-off point to great snowmobiling on the Soo Line Trail. There is plenty of hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and even kiteboarding in the area as well.

 

Grand Casino Mille Lacs –

 

Grand Casino Mille Lacs is dubbed “Minnesota’s Most Liked Casino,” and for good reason. Offering plenty of entertainment year-round, Grand Casino Mille Lacs offers entertainment from boxing to concerts to comedy. Of course there is gaming and excellent dining throughout the casino as well.

 

Mille Lacs Indian Museum –

 

If you’re looking to shop, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum Trading Post “interprets the contribution of the Ojibwe people to the culture, history and contemporary society of Minnesota and the nation.” While the museum is unfortunately closed until April 1st, the Trading Post is open from 11am-4pm Wednesdays through Saturdays and offers large exhibits, as well as jewelry, books, music and even wild rice. The Trading Post also has its own interesting history.

 

Or you could just stay in…

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There’s nothing wrong with just wanting to relax. The Soo Line Trail Campground offers a unique blend of amenities that allow for a fantastic getaway without breaking the bank (or giving you frostbite). With comfy overnight suites with free Wifi, a large clubhouse including a convenience store, game room and library, you don’t necessarily need to leave the resort to leave the stresses of winter life at home. A weekend getaway with your family or significant other might be just the fuel you need to make it all the way to spring.
As always, happy exploring!