By Dan Johnson

Anglers from across the Upper Midwest are flocking to Minnesota’s Upper Red Lake, where average ice depths of 5 to 8 inches are enabling foot travel out to the fishing grounds.

“Guys are walking to the edge of the last sandbar along shore and targeting depths of 5 to 8 feet of water,” reports veteran Red Lake guide and Lindy pro staffer Jonny Petrowske. “Most resorts already have foot traffic, and word is ATVs will be allowed out in the next couple of days.”

Upper Red’s resurgent walleye fishery is the main draw. Flush with fish ranging from 16 to 19 inches, with chances for larger catches, the lake has made an amazing comeback from record lows back in the 1990s.

To protect the fishery from future crashes, the state Department of Natural Resources and Red Lake Band of Chippewa jointly developed a harvest plan, with insight from the Upper Red Lake Citizen Advisory Committee. With support from all three parties, the walleye limit will drop to three fish effective Dec. 1. All fish from 17 to 26 inches must be released immediately, and only one over 26 inches is allowed in possession.

“The fishing has been so good, and Red Lake has become such a Walleye Mecca, we ended up with such intense fishing pressure that we had to curb the take to protect the fishery,” Petrowske explains.

Right now, suspended sediments raised by heavy seas during late-fall gales are clouding the water and slowing the bite. But Petrowske predicts stellar action will surface within days. “The lake is getting clearer every day, and we should hit the pinnacle of first-ice action by this weekend,” he says.

When the bite fires on all cylinders, savvy anglers can expect from 60 to 100 fish per day, per rental house or portable shelter, he notes. “It tapers off a bit after early January, but throughout December those are the kind of numbers we expect to see,” he says.

For the latest on fishing reports and ice conditions, Petrowske recommends checking with any of the resorts offering public access to Upper Red’s fabled fishing grounds. “Then get up here and enjoy it!” he laughs.