Time is a precious commodity for Ryan Doheny. He works three jobs, has three young children and, as he quipped, “there’s quite a few chores my wife would like me to get to one of these years.”
But when Doheny, 41, of Jordan, Minn., does find time to get outdoors and decompress, he appreciates that he can ice-fish any number of lakes not far from his door in Scott County.
“Every year I say I’m going to get Up North to ice fish, and every year something comes up,” he said. “Someday I’ll make it, but I have to say I feel pretty fortunate to have so many places to fish in the metro area. … It makes getting away at a moment’s notice a lot easier.”
Doheny isn’t alone. Consider: The metro area is a region of nearly 3 million people who live in 186 communities across seven counties: Anoka, Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin, Dakota, Carver and Scott. The region has some 950 lakes and is anchored by three major rivers: the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix. In other words, ice fishing opportunities in the region abound.
“The fisheries throughout the metro area don’t get the notoriety or the publicity that some of the larger walleye fisheries north of the Twin Cities get, but they still provide excellent opportunities and quality fishing, particularly for the person who wants to get out after work for a couple of hours during the week or doesn’t have the time to travel on the weekends,” said TJ DeBates, east metro area fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
DeBates said the region’s fisheries are known more for panfish than walleyes, though, he added, plenty of lakes still hold respectable numbers of the state’s most celebrated fish. “The difference in the metro is fishing pressure — it can be very high,” said DeBates. “If a lake has a hot bite, word spreads quickly at bait shops and on the internet and through social media, and traffic can be heavy. There are few secrets in fishing anymore.”
Such fishing pressure, DeBates said, can turn a booming bite into a bust very quickly. “With ice fishing, there’s a harvest mentality,” he said, adding the DNR stocks many metro lakes every year with pan fish and other species. “When a bunch of nice-sized crappies in a particular lake, for example, get hit hard, it may take a few years for another year class to get up to size.”
None of which matters that much to Doheny, who said he plans to take his twin 5-year-old sons, Jacob and Isaiah, on their first ice fishing foray this winter. “I started ice fishing when I was young and I want to carry on that tradition with my boys,” he said. “I’ll probably take one at a time, because together they’re a handful, to say the least.”
Below are several lakes to consider in the metro:
Size: 886 acres
Public access: Two in the watershed
Primary species: Bluegills, sunfish, black crappies, walleye, pike
Medicine Lake is a popular panfish lake in Plymouth. Along with her husband, Jodi Daugherty owns Big B’s Bait and Tackle in Plymouth. She said fishing pressure is picking up as ice conditions have improved. “The fishing hasn’t been hot and heavy yet, but it’s starting to pick up and guys are catching fish if they work at it a little bit,” she said. “Right now it’s mainly panfish, but some are catching walleyes and even bass.” Traditionally, the black crappie action gets good in January, especially in deeper water. Daugherty said the best public access is at French Lake Park, on the north side of the lake.
Size: 2,996 acres
Public access: Primary one is on lake’s east side
Primary species: Walleye, sunfish, black crappie, pike, muskie
With a maximum depth of 37 feet, Lake Waconia is one of the better walleye fisheries in the metro area. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stocks it with walleye every year. Several panfish species (bluegill, crappie) are common throughout the lake, though their size is considered small compared to historic state sampling efforts. Don “Papa” Rice works at Colony Plaza, a Waconia-based convenience store that includes a bait shop. “The sunnies and crappies are real hot right now,” he said. “Anglers are using jigs tipped with wax worms or crappie minnows.” Fishing pressure, he said, is picking up, too. “Pretty soon we’ll have a village of 1,500 houses out there before the winter is over,” Rice said.
Size: 793 acres
Public access: Two throughout the watershed
Primary species: Bluegill, walleye, black crappie, muskie
Cedar Lake is a popular shallow lake north of New Prague. Stable water levels and winter aeration have allowed state fisheries officials to manage the lake as a quality sport fishery. Bluegills are the lake’s most abundant species. Erik Mosell, an employee with Prior Lake Bait and Fish, said anglers are catching smaller crappies, perch and some walleye. “Things are just getting started,” he said. “Fishing pressure is picking up, and Cedar always seems to get fished hard most of the year.”
Size: 280 acres
Public access: West end of the lake
Primary species: Bass, sunfish, crappies, muskie, pike
Crystal Lake is a small, popular lake located in Burnsville. It’s primarily considered a lake for bass and panfish. Even through the ice, the bass fishing can be good, with the occasional trophy-sized fish caught. Sunfish are small but abundant. Tiger muskies are stocked in the lake. Mike Tidholm, owner of Burnsville Shell and Bait, said fishing pressure has increased as the panfish bite has improved. “The sunnies and crappies are going pretty good right now,” he said. “Crystal Lake always gets plenty of traffic, and this year is no different.”
Bald Eagle Lake
Size: 1,269 acres
Public access: Bald Eagle-Otter Lake Regional Park
Primary species: Walleye, sunfish, crappies, muskie, pike, bass, perch
Bald Eagle Lake is a popular muskie lake just north and west of White Bear Lake. In winter, the walleye and largemouth bass fishing is often good. Panfish angling is popular. Dan Schacht works at Blue Ribbon Bait and Tackle (locations in White Bear Lake and Oakdale). An avid ice angler himself, Schacht said Bald Eagle is starting to get hot. “I’m hearing some good things with crappies right now, and the walleyes and perch are here and there,” he said. “Some guys are using tip-ups for pike. If you’re lucky, you may even run into a muskie.”
Tori J. McCormick is a writer from Prior Lake. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.