Brad Dokken: Excitement builds for another ice fishing season

Nov. 25—GRAND FORKS — The rush to be the first on early ice has been in full swing on YouTube and other social media platforms for more than a week now, and anglers who ventured out generally have been rewarded with some great fishing.

That's the attraction of early ice, which can serve up some of the best action of the winter.

For many who fish through holes in the ice, there's an anticipation for that first ice fishing excursion that surpasses — dare I say — the attraction of getting in a boat for the first time after a long winter.

I'm not as gung-ho about it as I used to be, but I still look forward to getting out when the opportunity arises.

Unlike summer fishing, which often requires the significant investment of a boat to reach prime fishing spots, ice fishing is more of an equal opportunity pursuit. A thrifty first-timer could probably get into the sport for as little as $500 — and definitely not more than $1,000 — by watching the want ads for used gear.

Getting around generally is easier, too. It won't be long before anglers now walking onto the ice will be able to reach favorite fishing spots on plowed ice roads — especially on Upper Red and Lake of the Woods. And for those who prefer venturing off the beaten path, purchasing a used ATV or snowmobile requires a significantly smaller investment than the cash outlay needed to buy a boat big enough to navigate larger lakes in the region.

No wonder, then, that ice fishing has exploded in popularity.

By all indications, ice fishing on Minnesota's Upper Red Lake will be in full swing this weekend, though anglers planning a trip should check with local resorts for the most up-to-date conditions. I've also heard unconfirmed reports of anglers venturing out in parts of the Devils Lake Basin.

Lake of the Woods isn't quite ready, but satellite imagery shows the big lake is capping over. I have the weekend of Dec. 10 penciled in for my inaugural trip to Lake of the Woods. Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen — moderating temperatures in the days leading up to Thanksgiving could delay things a bit — but as soon as the ice is safe and resorts kick off their winter season, I'll be up there at the first opportunity.

Meanwhile, ice fishing shows are on tap across the region. The St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show gets underway Friday, Dec. 2, at the St. Paul RiverCentre. That's followed by the Fargo Ice Fishing Show, set for Dec. 9-11 at Scheels Arena.

Besides a chance to rub elbows with industry experts, the ice fishing shows are a showcase for the latest and greatest in winter fishing gear and tackle.

I've amassed quite a supply of ice fishing tackle over the years, but as a creature of habit, I rarely use more than one or two different jigs, or jigging spoons, on any given excursion.

Most of the time, I could just as well leave most of my tackle at home.

My go-tos for active jigging are Northland Tackle's Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon and Buck-Shot Coffin Spoon, JR's Tackle "Stop Sign" Jigging Spoon — in glow red — and Clam's Jointed Pinhead Jigging Spoon. On my set line, I'll generally tie on a plain hook or a JB Lures Gem-N-Eye Jig.

If the fish are in the right mood, it's hard to beat a Salmo Chubby Darter. The biggest walleye I ever caught through the ice — a 29 3/4 -inch "greenback" I landed near the mouth of the Red River in Manitoba — hit a Chubby Darter. I can still picture the big red blip on my electronics as the fish raced up from the depths to clobber that Chubby Darter. When a walleye commits to hitting a Chubby Darter — or any other lipless crankbait, for that matter — it generally doesn't mess around.

If history is any indication, I'll probably invest in a couple of new jigging spoons before I hit the ice for the first time.

That is part of the fun, after all.

If you catch a nice fish through the ice this winter, send me a jpeg at

, and I'll add it to the

Trophy Room gallery

in the

Northland Outdoors section

of the Herald website. And wherever your ice fishing adventures take you, be safe and have fun.