Locating First Ice Hot Spots on Mille Lacs
First ice on Mille Lacs Lake typically kicks off with fishable ice in the southern bays. The ice fishing season on Mille Lacs Lake contains distinct sub seasons, beginning with first ice. The definition of first ice may vary between anglers, so I'll be a little more specific on how I define it. First ice on the calendar is typically around Thanksgiving, November through early December. First ice from a fishing perspective begins when the first walkable ice is available, and ends with the first sizable snowfall or the beginning of ATV/snowmobile traffic. First ice on Mille Lacs Lake provides incredible opportunity for trophy northern pike, with many anglers landing fish over 40 inches. First ice also provides good near shore ice fishing opportunities for eater sized perch, and evening walleyes.
Sight Fishing Trophy Pike Through Spear Holes
One of my favorite ice fishing methods on first ice, is sight fishing trophy sized northern pike through spear holes. First ice is best for this for a few reasons, some more obvious than others.
Trophy sized pike tend to spook easy, walking traffic eliminates a lot of commotion.
Pike are very active and aggressive at first ice, especially before the first snow.
Cutting holes is much easier!
Like many ice fishing endeavors, you can make this as easy or as difficult as you like. My recommendation is to get a good ice saw; however a chisel, auger, or chainsaw will also work. A portable fish house is also necessary, for seeing down the hole.
Positioning is critical for getting the most action throughout the day. Pike and perch will use weed lines throughout the bay but, the evening walleye bite will be best where said weed lines intersect with a hard bottom. I recommend using a map to find subtle points in the bay, these points typically indicate a harder bottom. Finding weeds is generally easy on first ice, usually green cabbage will be visible through the ice in about 10 feet of water.
Once set up, the technique for big pike is pretty simple. Nothing beats a big shiner or medium sucker minnow, set about a third of the way down on a dead stick. I've refined my setup over the years, eliminating wire leaders. Currently I use a med/hvy spinning rod with a bait feeder reel. The main line is 20 lb. braid, tied with an Alberto knot to a 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader. A large split shot and 1/0 octopus hook complete the rig. Over the years I have gotten away from big bait and quick strike rigs. Quick strike rigs have a time and place with tipups, but are not necessary for sight fishing. Once the line is set, it becomes a waiting game.
First Ice Perch and Walleyes (Mille Lacs Bays)
Perch and walleyes are a great way to pass the time while fishing for gator sized pike. Fishing for apex predators is rarely considered to be fast action. Fortunately the weed lines in the bays are full of perch during the day, and walleye in the evening. When waiting for a big bite, I will generally pass the time by perch fishing. Perch fishing the bays usually involves a lot of sorting. Patient anglers can generally sort their way through little fish, to a meal of keepers.
Perch fishing in the bays is simple. Tungsten jigs tipped with spikes will provide constant action. I generally shiver a 4mm gold tungsten jig tipped with a few white spikes, a couple of feet off of the bottom. White spikes are easier to see on a dark bottom.
Walleyes tend to be an evening thing in the bays. I generally will target them one of a couple different ways. First of which, is a flutter spoon. A flutter spoon tipped with a minnow head is somethings I always keep ready while sight fishing. During the day, active walleyes occasionally pass through. These fish are aggressive, and easily caught. The flutter spoon gets their attention, even if they've already passed you by. The other technique I use is a little more passive, the set line. A plain hook and minnow is a tough offering for evening walleye to pass up. Small shiners or fatheads are ideal when set a foot or so off of the bottom.
Good Luck Fishing!
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