The road was barely visible through the blowing snow. On each side, tiny shacks were encased in winter's tight grip. All were dark and lonely.
Great news. We had the lake to ourselves.
Even nasty days can be good days on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods. Because many of the resorts regularly plow roads onto the ice - and to many of the clusters of fishing shanties on the lake, forming a small system of roads - access isn't usually an issue at LOW. Just pay a few bucks and you're on the road/lake.
Not necessarily the case in these parts, I've heard. With much-more-than-average snowfall this winter, area anglers have been complaining that getting to their favorite ice fishing holes has been difficult. Maybe that talk has slowed in recent weeks as snowfall has tapered off and what had accumulated is hardening. Getting from shore to fishing spots off the beaten path isn't quite as treacherous as it was, say, in December.
At the south access on Nisswa Lake - across Highway 371 from downtown Nisswa - a well-paved road was cut down the slope to the lake, then forked in either direction.
Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson
But on a recent venture out on a half-dozen area lakes, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, for the most part, there are plenty of plowed accesses to - and across - the lakes.
Gull Lake is probably the exception. I found only two plowed access roads of note on the lake - by far the biggest lake in or just outside of Brainerd: At the access near Hole-in-the-Day Bay and at Ernie's on Gull. Of greater area lakes, Mille Lacs has the best road system. It appears that, like LOW, Mille Lacs also relies on resorts to pave the way.
At the north access to Lake Sibley in Pequot Lakes, a nicely plowed road wound from the parking lot to a cluster of permanent fishing shanties near the point. At the south access on Nisswa Lake - across Highway 371 from downtown Nisswa - a well-paved road cut down the slope to the lake, then forked in either direction, with the roadway to the right stretching out a good half mile.
A snowmobile track ran parallel to a well-plowed road leading to a colony of ice fishing shanties (upper left) near Hole-in-the-Day Bay.
Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
As in the summer, the West Twin Lake access along Highway 371 is a bit rugged, but accessible. The rough road and a well-traveled snowmobile path stretched to a couple of houses. Shanties crowded North Long and Round lakes on the east side of Highway 371. Access didn't seem to be an issue on either.
I like the system at LOW in which the resorts regularly plow the roads from the resort grounds to - and well onto - the lake, and if you want to fish there, you pay a small fee. It keeps the resorts happy and busier during the long winters - typically a bit slower than summers up there - and anglers don't have to worry about getting on and off the lake.
Gull isn't as resort heavy as, say, LOW. Nor is ice fishing pressure there as heavy in the winter as it is at LOW. And the smaller lakes tend to have fewer resorts.
A rough road covered with snowmobile tracks wound to a lone ice fishing shanty beyond the point on the north end of Lake Sibley in Pequot Lakes.
Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
As of now, lake accessibility doesn't seem to be an issue around here. But that can change in a hurry. And taking a cue from Lake of the Woods can't be a bad thing.
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864.
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