As the ice season begins to wind down in much of the state, the hunt for giants at Lake of the Woods continues. Virtual Angling sat down with longtime guide Jean-Paul Tessier, better known as the Lake of the Woods Outdoorsman, to shed some light on late ice, trophy pike fishing on Lake of the Woods.
When & Where to Plan Your Lake of the Woods Trophy Pike Trip
When it comes to late ice pike on Lake of the Woods, Jean-Paul recommends the later half of March and even into April, “the later the better,” he explains. A key factor in finding trophy pike is locating ditches or creeks that are feeding the lake with running water, and then fishing the nearby weed beds. The increased light penetration combined with the running water increases the oxygen and therefore big pike move into these areas to begin spawning. Jean Paul suggests areas like 4 Mile Bay, Zipple Bay, Willow Creek, Springsteel and Buffalo Bay as places to start. These areas have creeks and ditches with weed beds around 8-10 feet, just outside the entrances of running water.
How to Target Trophy Pike
After finding the spot he wants to fish, Jean-Paul uses tip ups to target the fish. If the ice has snow on it, he chooses wooden Beaver Dam style tip ups because the spools go further down into the ice hole. If it’s bare ice or colder weather, he opts for thermal style tip ups such as the Clam Trophy Thermal tip up as it does a better job keeping the hole from freezing. Rod style dead lines are also very popular allowing the angler to fight the fish with a rod and reel.
On his tip ups, Jean-Paul prefers zero rigs over the quick strike rig, but both will be effective. The zero rig is preferred because the two treble hooks are on a closed loop of line instead of two separate lines. If only one hook is in the fish the loop limits the chance of the free hook catching on the bottom of the ice once the fish is near the hole. He also uses blades on his rigs, specifically in orange, chartreuse, and hammered gold colors. This adds some vibrant color and flash to cut through the stained water of Lake of the Woods.
Late ice pike can be very aggressive eaters so there are many options for bait this time of year. Live suckers, dead smelt, even hot dogs will yield fish. However, Jean-Paul chooses dead bait over live. “Lake of the Woods has current which [causes] the oils and scales to come off dead bait and therefore putting out more scent than live bait which can bring in fish from further away,” he explains. Dead bait can also reduce the number of false flags that tend to happen when using larger live bait. Pike are opportunistic feeders, yet can be very cautious at times, studying a bait for minutes before striking. Having bait in the 5-9-inch size range keeps you covered for both aggressive and more cautious fish.
Preparing for the Release
One of the biggest mistakes Jean Paul sees is anglers not having all the necessary tools at the hole when a flag has popped. Have your pliers, spreaders and bump board (if you’re measuring) at the hole before you bring in the fish. Keeping these giants in the water as long as possible is key to a healthy release. Once a fish is landed, unhook them quickly, and if a picture is to be taken, keep the fish in the water until the photographer is ready. Lift the fish out of the hole using a safe gill hold and once out, use your free hand to support the bottom half of the fish while taking the picture. Then release the fish quickly to avoid freezing the fins and eyes.
Lake of the Woods Accommodations
For those looking to spend a weekend fishing for Lake of the Woods trophy pike, Jean Paul likes the Warroad and Baudette areas. There are great resorts such as Ballard’s and Sportsman’s Lodge to stay at and if you’re looking for a more cost-effective route, there are more budget friendly options in the area as well.
Depending on ice conditions this time of the season, Jean Paul recommends ATVs or studded snowmobiles to travel on the lake. As mentioned earlier, there is current on Lake of the Woods meaning ice conditions can vary. He also suggests going in bigger groups as that will allow more lines in the water and more area covered.
Plan Your Lake of the Woods Trophy Pike Trip Now
The game fish season may be closed on inland lakes in Minnesota, but the fish of a lifetime can still be caught through the ice on Lake of the Woods.
To contact Jean Paul Tessier about guided fishing trips and sleeper houses on Lake of the Woods, visit his website at www.lakeofthewoodsoutdoorsman.com.