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Upper Red Lake Ice Fishing: Your Cold Fishing Paradise

There was a time when Red Lake was known as a dead sea. However, this massive 250,000-acre lake has changed. Upper Red Lake ice fishing is now alive and well with many of the Minnesota ice fishing reports showing the lake is finally back.

The lake was once depleted of the fish due to commercial netting. However, back in 1995, a class of crappies established themselves setting the stage for the lake to come back to glory. For about ten years, the crappies have exploded and the fishing became excellent. It wasn’t hard to catch dozens of crappies larger than 12 inches in size.

However, the crappie class from 1995 dwindled. Red Lake has undergone a new transformation since and has become the top spot for walleye fishing in the Midwest. Read our tips on Ice Fishing for Walleye, here<.

Information about Red Lake

Upper Red Lake Ice Fishing
Andrew Filer / CC BY-SA

Red Lake is found about an hour to the north of Bemidji. It’s located in northern Minnesota and known as the largest inland lake in the entire state. There are actually two massive connected lakes making up the fishery including the 152,000 acres of Lower Red Lake and the 60,000 acres of Upper Red Lake. The lake also includes 48,000 acres within a reservation, which is off-limits to anybody not enrolled in the band.

Ice Fishing for Walleye at Red Lake

When the crappie boom happened, it was due to a vacant biological habitat. It was quite a bit of fun for anglers enjoying ice fishing, but Red Lake is naturally suited for walleyes.

When the Red Lake Native American Band decided to prohibit all netting in 1998 and reduce the walleye bag limit to two fish, it allowed a chance for the walleye to boom. They even dropped the walleye bag limit to 9 in 1999.

In 1999, the state and the band agreed to stock roughly 40 million walleye over the next 10 years. Since those efforts have been complete for many years now, the walleye are in good shape in Red Lake. The bag limit has been increased and the ice fishing on Red Lake is amazing.

Upper Red Lake Ice Fishing

Success on Upper Red Lake, when it comes to ice fishing, isn’t defined by just a 10-fish day. Most will tell you a 10-fish day isn’t even average. Anglers hit the ice in search of a great day with double that and some will even shrug at that number of fish.

If you head to Upper Red Lake for ice fishing as a foursome for the weekend, you won’t impress anybody when you say you caught around 50 fish. However, one thing nobody will dispute you on is the health of the fish. They are yellow and thick, which is always a good thing. You can easily find 20 to 26-inch fish, which must be released, but eaters are also very common.

Many theories on the best way to ice fish Upper Red Lake will be heard because the fish will move in and out, and then back in. Most will tell you to enjoy the comforts of a hard-sided house, but some will bounce around in portable shelters, which can be difficult.

If you are coming for the weekend or longer than just the day, you may want to rent a heated house with restrooms. This is a great way to go and all you will need is sleeping gear and fishing gear. These types of houses will provide you with a stovetop to allow you to even cook for your needs. Some rentals come with the ability to sleep six men and even have up to 12 holes!

A Few Tips for Red Lake Ice Fishing

Red Lake Ice Fishing
Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2018 / CC BY-SA 3.0-IGO

It’s always a good idea to check the Minnesota ice fishing report for Red Lake before heading out. However, there are a few other tips you may want to take with you.

Get your Fishing License

Don’t forget to get your license from the bait shop or one of the other retailers selling Minnesota fishing licenses. You may also need to purchase stamps for specific fish, such as sturgeons, trout, and walleye.

Choose the Right Bait

Your bait will make a difference and since Red Lake is a bit more rural, you may want to stock up on live minnows before you head out. You can also use a frozen minnow as a substitute, but most anglers prefer ice fishing Red Lake with live minnows.

When to Fish

The ice fishing on Red Lake happens in January and February. However, it may last as long as April, depending on the type of fish you are after. The season will start as soon as the ice is thick enough, usually in November or December.

Hole Size

Drilling your hold is important and you want to have a six to eight-inch old. This is usually large enough, but some will go a bit larger if they expect to catch a rather large fish.


Whether fishing anywhere on Red Lake or ice fishing specifically on Upper Red Lake, the technique is the same and it’s nothing like fly fishing on the lake in the summer.. You will bore your hole with an auger, rig up your line and drop it to the bottom, or close to the bottom. This is where the walleye are found most often. Once you have dropped your bait, wait a few minutes and raise the bait about a foot abruptly, then shake it and drop it.

Repeat this technique every few minutes and you will be able to catch more fish. This helps to get the attention of nearby fish when they are slower in the wintertime. Some will start at the bottom with this technique and work the bait all the way to the top before dropping it back to the bottom and starting over.

Changing Locations

There are two theories on location when it comes to Upper Red Lake ice fishing. Some will tell you to be willing to move if you go hours without a bite. Others will tell you to stay put, as the fish move and they may be moving to your area very soon.

Use this information and you will be able to catch more fish and have more fun as you enjoy Red Lake ice fishing and Upper Red Lake ice fishing. Always keep the Minnesota ice fishing report in mind so that you will know what type of fish to expect and how they have been biting recently.