“I’ve ice-fished on Lake Mille Lacs, Red Lake and others up north, and while I love them all, the fisheries in southern Minnesota don’t get the notoriety they deserve,” Wachal said.

Wachal, 43, is an avid walleye angler and a native of New Prague. “I moved to Iowa nearly five years ago, and I still make as many trips as I can each year to fish in southern Minnesota. The region has some quality fisheries beginning in the south metro. And they don’t get nearly the fishing pressure.”

Brian Schultz said southern Minnesota has never been considered a destination for ice anglers but should be. Schultz is the Department of Natural Resources’ assistant regional fisheries manager in New Ulm.

“I think a lot of that has to do with aesthetics,” he said. “In the southern part of the state, you have mainly prairie lakes that are often surrounded by corn and soybean fields. They’re not as easy on the eyes, you could say, but the fishing can be really, really good during the winter. The region as a whole is one of the best-kept secrets in the state.”

Below are several fisheries to consider south of the Twin Cities:


Prior Lake

Where: Prior Lake in Scott County

Size: 1,341 acres

Public access: Five throughout the watershed

Primary species: Sunfish, crappies, pike, walleye

• Prior Lake is actually two watersheds: Upper Prior (386 acres) and Lower Prior (956 acres). Collectively, it’s one of the south metro’s most popular fisheries. Dave Selbo, who works at Prior Lake Bait & Tackle, said sunfish and black crappie are providing the bulk of the action. “It’s sunfish during the day and crappies for two or three hours near sunset,” he said. “And there’s been very little walleye action.” Some anglers are catching northern pike with tip-ups and sucker minnows, Selbo said. “Fishing pressure was heavy, but now it’s starting to slow down.” The city of Prior Lake has 14 lakes within its city limits. More information at www.priorlakebait-tackle.com.





French Lake

Where: Near Faribault in Rice County

Size: 875 acres

Public access: Southeast corner

Primary species: Crappies, sunfish

• John Kubinski, owner of John’s Bait and Tackle west of Faribault, said the black crappie bite has been consistent all winter, increasing fishing pressure. “Each year is a little different, but so far this year French Lake has produced crappies, with some sunfish and a few stragler walleyes,” he said. For crappies, most anglers are using small jigs tipped “with the smallest crappie minnow you can find.” Be patient, he said. “They (crappies) can be very finicky — and some days they haven’t been aggressive at all. It’s been taking guys a while to get a limit, but that can change over night.”





Fountain Lake

Where: Albert Lea in Freeborn County

Size: 521 acres

Public access: Two city-owned accesses

Primary species: Crappie, sunfish, perch, walleye

• Fountain Lake is an impoundment that forms the headwaters of the Shell Rock River. Mark Conley, owner of The Dam Bait Shop in Albert Lea, said “constant weather changes” have slowed the overall bite. “It’s been frustrating for some,” he said. “You’re having to search hard for walleyes, but they’re generally nice-sized fish when you catch them.” The crappie bite has been the most consistent, producing many 10- to 13-inch fish. “I’ve even heard some rumblings about perch,” Conley added. More information at www.thedambaitshop.net.


Tetonka Lake

Where: Waterville in Le Sueur County

Size: 1,336 acres

Public access: Two city accesses

Primary species: Sunfish, crappies, pike

• Bluegills, crappies and northern pike are the major draws. Axel Streed, owner of Axel’s Tackle Box in Waterville, said the crappie and sunfish bite has been decent but “nothing to write home about.” Some anglers are targeting northern pike either with tip-ups or with spears. “They’re some nice pike in Tetonka,” he said. A state survey showed pike ranged from 18 to 38 inches long, with an average of 26 inches. Streed said warm weather has created spotty ice conditions. More information at www.axelstacklebox.blogspot.com.





Washington Lake

Where: Roughly 10 miles northeast of Mankato in Le Sueur County

Size: 1,519 acres

Public access: Southwest and north side of lake

Primary species: Walleyes, bluegills, crappies

• Ryan White, owner of White’s Corner Bait in Madison Lake, about seven miles east of Mankato, said Washington Lake is “one of the better walleye lakes” in the area and the bite this winter has been good. “It’s been pretty consistent throughout the winter,” he said. The crappie and sunfish bites have been “decent but sporadic.” Most anglers have had their best luck using jigs tipped with wax worms. “Presentations vary,” he said. “If something isn’t working, try something else.” More information at www.whitescornerbait.com.


Lake Shetek

Where: Murray County

Size: 3,596 acres

Public access: Five accesses

Primary species: Walleye, crappie, pike, perch

• Jeff Carlson, owner of Carlson Corner, a bait shop and convenience store north of Slayton, said the walleye and crappie bites have been “spotty to very good” and that fishing pressure is heaviest on weekends. Anglers are using plain hooks or small jigs tipped with either fathead or crappie minnows. “The walleye bite has been a night bite for the most part, from sunset on,” Carlson said. “A lot of bigger fish, in that 20-inch range or larger, have been caught and released. Some northern pike are starting to show up, too.” Carlson cautioned anglers to monitor ice conditions.





Mississippi River backwaters

Where: North of Red Wing to Winona

Public access: Within each city

Primary species: Sunfish, crappies, perch, pike

• Dan Dieterman, DNR assistant regional fisheries supervisor in Lake City, said opportunities abound. “It’s a big system, but once you learn it you can find some really good fishing,” he said. Dieterman regularly fishes for bluegills and crappies using tear-drop jigs tipped with wax worms or minnows. “Most backwater areas from Red Wing south are five to 25 acres, and fish populations can vary widely,” he said. “If you’re willing to move around and explore, you’ll find fish.” Perch numbers have increased in the last 10 years, he said. “You can find some real dandies in that 10- to 12-inch range.”


Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer living in Prior Lake. Contact him at torimccormick33@gmail.com.