Go Small or Go Home: 10 Great Small Lakes for Ice Fishing


Dialing in the 411 on small- to medium-sized lakes for ice fishing isn’t easy. The big water destinations advertise and invite us at every sport show, and we all know and love the big fish and good times at these destinations. Places like Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs, Devils Lake, Leech Lake, Red Lake, Lake Winnebago, and, of course, all the Great Lakes and their various bays—especially Chequamegon Bay, Bay of Quinte, and Bays de Noc, to name a few.

No anglers were harmed in the making of this list of 10 lakes across the ice belt for you add to your ice fishing destinations.

South Dakota select

Lake Waubay and nearby Enemy Swim and Bitter Lake in eastern South Dakota are truly three best-kept secrets. You see, folks from South Dakota are down-to-earth kind of people; they don’t brag on themselves a whole lot or set their lakes up for comparison. Heck, some of Waubay’s boat ramps aren’t even paved—which might quell any braggadocio. That makes winter the perfect season to enjoy these great small-lake fisheries. Good-sized fish abound in great numbers, especially walleyes, perch, and panfish.

Up in da Upper Peninsula

Lake Gogebic is located in the farthest western edge of the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At 13,380 acres, it is the largest inland lake for da Yoopers and those of us who visit the land of meat pasties on occasion. It’s also full of jumbo perch, walleye, and northern pike. Gogebic gets a lot of snowfall each year—300 inches—and that can make for challenging ice conditions with too much insulation. Be careful on Gogebic and scope out accurate, current ice information. Better yet, hire a great perch guide like Guy Jon Sibley. Just like fine wine comes in huge magnum containers, Guy targets “magnum” jumbo perch, and he’s got the replica mounts and video to back up the claim. They are known as “teeter pigs” because they are so fat you can set them on the ice on their belly and they won’t teeter over.

Guy Jon Sibley with his magnum jumbo perch from Lake Gogebic. Image courtesy Guy Jon Sibley.
Guy Jon Sibley with his magnum jumbo perch from Lake Gogebic. Image courtesy Guy Jon Sibley.

Big Stone Lake

Big Stone Lake is located in Central-Western Minnesota, on the South Dakota border, and it is a tremendous ice fishing option for perch, bluegills, and walleyes. Mike Frisch, of Fishing the Midwest’s School of Fish, likes Big Stone because it is loaded with nice perch and they are easy to catch. Ice anglers can find good walleyes and bull blue gills, too. Access is easy from Ortonville, Minnesota and about six miles on the south end is prime ice real estate. The key is to stay on the move until you contact fish and then you are in business. Stop by Artie’s Bait & Tackle and Artie Arndt will even draw a map for you.

Down in the Lower Peninsula

Get into some nice perch, walleye, northern pike, and occasionally some trout on Burt Lake in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. It is one of Marianne Huskey’s favorite spots for winter.

“I have a lot of great memories of fishing Burt Lake with my son, Gunnar,” said Marianne. On one excursion when Gunnar was only 10, just as he was bringing a nice fish through the hole, the line snapped. Marianne went in up to her armpit and pulled that fish out to make for a happy 10-year-old. It was his biggest trout ever.

Even smaller spots

The next two might be micro-destinations—each less than 1,000 acres. At only 800 acres, Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills of South Dakota holds huge lake trout and pike, as well as nice bluegill, crappie, and rainbow trout according to Ice Team Pro Staffer Craig Oyler. Oyler also likes the Healy Reservoir by Buffalo, Wyoming, which is even smaller at a little over 200 acres. Healy produces perch, trout, big largemouth bass, and a healthy population of tiger musky.

Metro Madison

In the metro area of Madison, Wisconsin, Lake Mendota is a deep lake, dropping to depths of more than 80 feet. It is the first and largest lake of the Yahara Chain and boasts an excellent perch and panfish population.

“Most of the bluegills are found in shallow weeds and the perch fishing is done over deep water, requiring specialized rigs and tactics,” shared Jim Kasuda, Ice Team Pro Staff member. “Looking at the state capitol and the University of Wisconsin and the skyline of the city of Madison, it is hard to believe how peaceful it can be out there.”


Speaking of major metro areas, many times they are more accessible in the winter, as lakes that normally have no motorized boats can become go-to ice fishing destinations. For example, in the Chicago metro area, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois boast 40 well-stocked man-made lakes, according to Tod Todd, pro staffer for Ice Team.

What are your top picks for out-of-the-way hard water hot-spots?

K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.

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