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LEECH LAKE: THE HARD WATER KING

Leisure Outdoor Adventures

Leech Lake is a lake for all seasons. Beginning with the famed Minnesota Walleye opener, Leech Lake is a joy for hardcore anglers and families for putting fish in the boat or on the ice. While Leech is well known for it’s summer fishing, ice fishing on Leech is underutilized and offers a chance to fish with minimal pressure and competition. While the big four get more attention and deservedly so, give Leech Lake a shot, she won’t disappoint!

Leech Lake is 111,527 acres of lake that offers plenty of options when it comes to ice fishing and other outdoor activities. The lake itself has numerous resorts that are spread out throughout from Steamboat Bay to Bear Island. With the lake being so big, being able to narrow down your fishable area on the lake is something to consider when finding a place to stay. Additionally, considering your modes of transportation should be a factor as well. If you have snowmobiles, four wheelers, and other ways to get around on the ice then you have a lot more freedom to pick your resort location. There are a number of resorts that cater to the needs of ice fishermen and offer all the “fixins” needed for a great trip; portables, permanent shacks, snowmobiles, and even electronics at some places. Be sure to call ahead to ensure where you stay has what you need.

Walleye is king and if it is walleye you are after, options include searching the sand flats or delving into one of the many bays that surround the main lake portions. Walker, Kabekona, Agency, give an angler deep structure offerings to chase walleyes. Steamboat, Portage and Sucker bay are shallower and littered with weedy haunts that walleyes use to hide in as they try to kamikazee unsuspecting schools of baitfish. The shallower bays and the shallow flats around Goose Island will usually offer the earliest first ice opportunities. These fish are nomadic and will demand a lot of holes to be drilled and require you to stay mobile. Whether it is shallow sand or deeper structure, the recipe for success is similar. Begin with 1/8th to 1/4th oz jigging spoons, #5 jiggin raps, and a dead stick set up with a bobber/hook or jig/minnow and you will have a good start. In the deeper bays, you will find humps that are scattered throughout and will hold fish. Additionally, there are numerous shoreline break opportunities that should not be overlooked.

Late season walleyes requires the angler to think outside the box. Often times there are community spots that get hit hard December through January and those fish have been caught or have moved on. When February comes along and the walleye season is starting to wind down, it is time to begin looking elsewhere and for ice that has been less traveled. The walleyes on Leech are still going to relate to many of the classic mid winter structures such as deep humps, points, funnels, and rock bars. Get out your GPS and map and start looking for spots that are similar in contour and feature to your earlier season spots that produced. Besides that, if you have been fishing a large expansive piece of structure hone in on the specific nuances that can be found within that structure, aka ‘the spot on the spot’. Inside turns, saddles, areas that funnel down, or transition areas between rock/sand or silt/sand are great places to start. Walker Bay is a good starting point when looking for these classic late winter spots. However, don’t ignore the south end of the main lake near Big Rock Reef, Huddles, and the large amounts of structure surrounding those areas. Be sure not to ignore any weeds that are still standing. There is always a population of walleyes that hang around weeds throughout the whole season, Set up on a steep break with tip ups just before dark, and you can have some great action with these shallow water fish. Classic presentations such as jigging spoons or swim type baits such as Chubby Darters are great search lures. Realize you may have to downsize your lure presentation and finesse the fish more during this late season period.

While walleyes are kings of the castle, anglers in the know realize Leech as a great panfish lake. While mid-winter panfishing on Leech Lake can be challenging, it is also very rewarding. Be it perch, crappies or bluegills, the chance for a trophy panfish is real and, best of all, undiscovered. Due to its immense size, deciding where to start can be the first challenge and quite intimidating. However, it is actually much more simple than one might think. We can eliminate large amounts of water by solely focusing on a few different bays and structure that we know will hold fish. Think of spots you would normally start seeking panfish in the summer on your own favorite lake. These should be your first locations to target when trying to find panfish during those winter doldrums. In preparation for panfishing stay light and mobile, be willing to drill some holes, a lot of holes and you will reap the benefits of hardwork. Use your electronics and jump from hole to hole combing the area for any fish to show up suspended on your electronics. One of the best is the Vexilar FL-22HD with the new tri-beam transducer. With the tri beam’s multiple cone angles, you can search more of the water column, increasing your overall efficiency and spend less time drilling holes. After finding an active fish or two, continue to concentrate on this location by drilling holes in smaller increments that are closer together. Many times fish will be relating to one small piece of structure within this general area. This method should set you up for a delicious platter of dinner time morsels, as well as an opportunity at a bull gill or slab crappie! Late ice will find crappies and bluegills to be suspended over the bays’ deeper basins. Here, fish can be found feeding on the most abundant forage hatches winter has to offer. Seek out deeper areas of the bay, often adjacent to mud flats which will soon be home to these fish and used as spawning grounds. Due to the large amount of food options filtering the basins, an extended daytime bite is often encountered. Deeper water fish are often active throughout different times of the day. This also allows for a more aggressive presentation using bigger spoons and baits that will help get you down in that deeper water column fast.

Leech’s world class jumbo perch is what many hard water enthusiasts come to hunt for on Leech. When chasing perch, you will find they are all over the lake and if you are willing to go through some gas for your auger and to punch a few holes it is not out of the ordinary to catch a limit of pig perch on the lake. Many ice anglers look to the main lake areas such as Grand View or Goose Flats and the Snake Pits when chasing perch. These are all good places to start, but look to get away from the crowds when beginning to fish! Focus on weedlines, patches of cabbage, or points and you can find a bounty of jumbos. A 1/16th oz jigging spoon tipped with a minnow head or eurolarvae is a great search weapon. Once you get on the school, set up a portable or wheel house and get ready for some fast action. Rattle reels, jigs/spoons or even a slip bobber with a minnow should all be part of your arsenal when targeting jumbos. The perch bite can be good throughout the whole winter and can serve as a fun thing to do when the walleye bite slows down during the day. The peak time to chase pig perch on Leech is March and all the way until ice out. The perch are feeding in full force and this can be one of the funnest bites any angler can be a part of.

Lastly, we would be remiss if we failed to mention the dinosaur of the depths that lurks in Leech, the Eelpout. Made famous by the annual Eelpout festival and commonly referred to as ‘poorman’s lobster’, eelpout offer something for everyone. Anglers specifically setting out to target eelpout will want to make sure they have a variety of spoons, jigs or hooks that have one thing in common: “Glow”. This may be the single most important characteristic for duping these freshwater dinosaurs. A Northland Forage Minnow in any color that glows, used repeatedly to pound the bottom, should be all you need to put a tasty ‘pout’ on the ice. Some of the more notorious locations for fishermen setting out to target eelpout will be Stoney Point, Kabekona Bay and of course the “king” of all locations, the humps of Walker Bay. If you are a walleye fisherman, consider any spot you would fish late summer for walleyes as a potential holding ground for an eelpout or two during January of February when these fish are typically most active. They also provide an extended late night bite for those fishermen targeting walleyes after the prime time window has come to an end for the evening.

Leech can offer something for every angler’s desires, whether it is: walleye, perch, panfish, pike, or even tullibee or whitefish. The lake has a bounty of fishing opportunities from first ice until ice out. For winter ice fishing you don’t need to drive nor look any further than Walker, MN and Leech Lake. Fishermen friendly resorts, a world class fishery against a breathtaking backdrop, Leech Lake is worthy of further exploration. No matter your quarry, Leech lake will deliver and you will not be disappointed.



 

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