By Dan Johnson

Minnesota’s slice of Lake of the Woods has been serving up stellar fishing for walleyes, saugers and pike since early ice, and its fertile waters show no signs of slowing down as the hardwater clock ticks toward February.

Nick Painovich of Zippel Bay Resort reports anglers are connecting with a mixed bag of saugers and walleyes in 28 to 32 feet of water near the Sandy Shores area, particularly where rocky rubble transitions into a softer bottom.

“We’re seeing about 80 percent saugers in the catches out there, with really consistent action,” he says, noting that 12- to 14-inch eater saugers are common, with a sampling of 16- to 18-inch walleyes mixed in for good measure.

“Lindy Rattl’n Flyer Spoons tipped with a shiner head have been the top presentation,” he says. “But a lot of anglers deadstick a whole live minnow on a Lindy Ice Worm on their second line, and that combination is accounting for a lot of fish that move in to check out the jigging spoon, then grab the deadstick line.” He notes that Lindy Darters are also great attractor baits, and aggressive fish often smack them as well.

While the deep game is producing big numbers of fish, Painovich says 14- to 16-foot depths are the place to be for walleyes running 16 to 19 inches, with bonus catches of larger fish common.

“Deep fish bite all day, but the shallow bite is a low-light deal, best around sunrise and sunset,” he explains. “To help guests enjoy the best of both worlds, we offer a deep-shallow package, where anglers fish shallow water at night and in the morning, and then move out deeper for saugers during the day.”

Rattl’n Flyer Spoons and Darters are also deadly in the shallows, where they often account for incidental northern pike. “We’re seeing a lot of pike in the 30-inch-range, with a few over 40,” says Painovich. “If you’re targeting pike, sucker minnows under tip-ups are taking fish in as little as 5 feet of water. Darters and Flyers are great attraction baits in the middle of your group’s tip-ups.”

Pot-bellied yellow perch are also showing up in the bag at all depths, with a few more jumbos being taken in deeper water along transitions from hard to soft bottom. “Twelve-inch perch are common,” says Painovich. “We’re also seeing a few monster eelpout on rattle reels at night.”

Add it all together and Lake of the Woods remains a fine destination for hardwater action.