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Mississippi Backwater Fishing Reports - Winona Wabasha Lawrence Lake

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I fished Bartlett Lake, AKA the airport lake backwaters, for the first time this winter today.

I pulled in to the parking lot at 7:30, and was expecting three or four vehicles. There were already more than a dozen. Given the lack of angler activity on Lake Winona when I drove past, I think I know where the better bite has been in the last week.

I did not measure the ice at Bartlett, but I am guessing there was about eight or nine inches where I drilled.

The bluegill bite was steady, if not fast, and I kept fourteen of them in four or five hours of fishing, with the largest being 8.5". No crappie or perch. The best part of today was the tip-up action.

I caught four largemouth, including the 12" and 16" below, with the 16" the biggest bass of the morning.



I kept two Northern of about twenty inches each. I also released this 35" Northern, my largest pike in quite a few years:



All in all, a pretty good morning on the backwaters. Lots of people out, but I kind of expected that, even if they were out early.

What I did not expect to see was the horde of people on Riley Lake, the deep backwater on the east side of the road, on the left as you drive away from Bartlett. (Not the super shallow backwaters with the airport lights in them.) There were probably a dozen vehicles parked there, and several clusters of portables on that water.

It's been discussed before on here, but Riley Lake sees little activity in the winter, at least in my experience. I don't know if there is a hot bite of some sort there, if one or two groups decided to try it out, or if it was just "monkey see, monkey do", but I have never seen so many people fishing Riley Lake in the winter. I myself had little luck the couple times I tried it in the winter back in 1990s, but who knows?

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Good ice has been about ten days away for a month now in southern Minnesota.  As of today that means I hope to get up there and hit the ice by New Year's Eve, but that looks iffy at best.  

I work at an area baitshop. Here is what I have at the moment. Willow Creek 4"-6" Silver Creek 4"-6" Fosters (patchy) 3"-4" not recommended to fish here yet backwaters are patchy 2

This is too late to do anyone any good, but here is a picture from my trip to Winona the last weekend in February before the ice went out. The bluegill were hitting early in the morning on Bartle

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Were they fishing the east or west riley's? the western lake seems rather shallow... the eastern lake though looks as if it has some depth... kinda a pita to fish once anything grows in there though

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Everyone was on east Riley Lake. There is some deep water in there.

I would have taken a picture, but my camera was buried in my gear when I left.

There were at least four portables very close together in the little sort of bay on the south side of Riley Lake by the small island. There was another cluster of people in the east end, and a few more near the north shoreline.

Every previous winter since the mid-1990s when I first fished Bartlett Lake, a few people try east Riley Lake out. I tried it myself in the late 1990s. No one ever seemed to find enough in there to make it worth going out there again. I myself caught a few bluegill and a couple Northern, with much better fishing just down the road in Bartlett. That is why I was surprised to see so many people on Riley.

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Mike Walerak

I was down there last week and it was froze. With the nice weather and rain we have now I'd say probably not or at least I would not trust it. I never really do feel comfortable going across that.


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  • 1 month later...

Here are a couple pictures from a day trip I made to Winona a week ago. The panfishing at Bartlett Lake was really slow, and the small number of people out there makes me think it had been that way for a while.

The flags were flying on my tip-ups through mid-afternoon, but all I caught were average largemouth and small Northern. Here is one of the hammer handles:


There was a pair of eagles out there waiting for food or bait to get left on the ice. They were in the same tree as the pair of eagles that almost took a bass from me last winter (pics somewhere in this thread from last year), so I suspect they are the same eagles.


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Were they fishing the east or west riley's? the western lake seems rather shallow... the eastern lake though looks as if it has some depth... kinda a pita to fish once anything grows in there though

When I was out behind the airport last week, there were a couple guys sitting in the little bay by the little island on the south shore of east Riley Lake. It looked like there had been a fair bit of traffic going out there, too. No idea what is being caught there.

If I still lived in the area I would find out, but I don't have much time to get out and scout new areas around Winona and Lacrosse anymore.

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When I was out behind the airport last week, there were a couple guys sitting in the little bay by the little island on the south shore of east Riley Lake. It looked like there had been a fair bit of traffic going out there, too. No idea what is being caught there.

If I still lived in the area I would find out, but I don't have much time to get out and scout new areas around Winona and Lacrosse anymore.

I use to catch some big ol pike out of that lake... then I think it was about 7 years ago there was a nasty winter kill... and the fishing never seemed to be the same... but from what DNR has told me it happens often out there... So maybe the residents have grown back to a decent population...

That pike up there is a hog! I don't know what to think of Bartlett... Seems it's a better ice fishing lake than it is an open water lake... I've fished it sporadically for the past 15 years... and it's either on... or it's off... but I always have heard good reports from ice guys in the winter

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I had to catch a LOT of largemouth and pickling-sized Northern (plus the odd bullhead, dogfish, and big perch) out of Bartlett over the last few years to get that 35".

The winter bass and pike bite has gotten much better for me the last couple years behind the airport, the best since I lived in Winona in the late 1990s. Since I'm not a regular out there anymore my personal experiences there now probably aren't worth much.

The bluegill quality through the ice was definitely down for me at Bartlett after 2007 or so, but it got a little better in the last year or two. As with the tip-up bite, the bluegill fishing isn't quite what I found in the late '90s when I was fishing there three or four times a week in the winter, either.

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  • 1 month later...

I managed to find time for two final trips to Winona for this ice season last weekend and today: if you are planning on hitting the backwaters around there, bring tip-ups and shiners.

The panfish bite at Bartlett Lake was rather slow, with even smaller bluegills needing some coaxing to hit. I came away with a few decent sunnies both times, but switched to running a tip-up on both lines because that was what produced the best action. The largemouth hit very well on live shiners earlier in the day--here are pictures of a few bass from my two outings:




I put my second tip-up down on the edge of the weedline this forenoon, and baited it with a dead shiner the bass had killed earlier. That produced a couple of eating-size pike, including this one:


The tip-up action slowed way down by noon, and nothing much happened after that. I left mid-afternoon both last weekend and today, so whether there was a good evening bite I do not know.

As for ice conditions, last weekend's thick layer of slush at the Airport Lake backwaters had hardened up pretty well by today. No one had driven out a car or truck on Bartlett since the snow, which is a good choice, but one vehicle drove out this morning on east Riley Lake. There were quite a few trucks out on east Lake Winona as well this afternoon.

It is cool that we can still ice fish, much less drive to do it, around Winona on March 23. I wish I could get up there once more before ice-out, but today was my last hard water outing until next December.

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  • 8 months later...

Anyone been out on Bartlett Lake yet? I am thinking about taking my stepdaughter and her boyfriend out in the Winona area and have never fished Bartlett in the winter. Any help would be great, her boyfriend had a tough summer season fishing as she usually outfished him. So figured I would see if he can beat her at some ice fishing.

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I'm told by a fairly reliable source that there is 4" or so of ice at Bartlett Lake AKA the airport lake backwaters, and people are walking out there.

I can't confirm that information, but I'm confident enough to say I may head up there early tomorrow to get some tip-up action in.

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Thanks for the information. I am really bummed about this site. Back 4 -5 years ago I was on here all the time, people shared their stories from the area and we all helped each other out, coordinated tournaments and such. I of course had a son so outdoor life came to a halt for awhile and now that we are getting out again, I thought I would check the site out and there is very little action here anymore. What happened?

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There are people exchanging information on the forum now--let's see if we can keep it going.

Anyone else have any updates or questions about ice conditions?

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I made the drive up to Winona last weekend to hit the airport lake backwaters: 3.5 hours, almost 200 miles...totally worth it. cool

In the morning, the bluegill were hitting pretty much everything I dropped down the ice as soon as it got to them. I kept a meal's worth, and threw back a lot more. The ones I kept were in the 8" range, along with the oddball pictured below. I know I have caught green sunfish around Winona, but they are few and far between. They seem more common down here, especially in small weedy ponds. The one I caught at Bartlett was pretty good-sized by greenie standards:


I caught some decent largemouth on my tip-up, with the largest maybe 16". I did not measure or photograph any, because it was a cold morning and I wanted to get them back in the water as quickly as possible.

No northern, which is too bad because I am looking forward to some cajun-style pike.

The ice was probably 8" or 10" where I was fishing, and in very good condition. I am glad I got up there early this season before the airport lake gets pounded in to tight-mouth territory, which will probably happen soon.

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isn't bartletts in 10 sunfish limit area?

The map to me says Bartlett is in the ten sunfish limit area, and that's what I comply with, but I see a lot of people taking twenty-five sunfish per outing from there. I've been told by different people that the limit is in fact twenty-five. DO NOT quote me on that.

I don't keep more than ten sunfish anyway, so I've never verified the actual limit at Bartlett. Next time a CO checks me in Winona County I'll try to remember and ask them what it is.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Can you fish Bartlett with a Wisconsin license since it is on the other side of the railroad tracks?

Bartlett is between the railroad tracks on the Minnesota side and the main channel of the Mississippi, so you should be fine there with a Wisconsin license.

Are you maybe thinking of some other body of water in or near Winona?

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Yea thats what I thought but still have to follow Minnesota regulations though right?

Correct. Two lines only if you fish on the ice at Bartlett, for instance, even though on the Wisconsin side you are allowed three.

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Because Yeoman Pond is entirely on the Minnesota side of the channel, Minnesota regulations for MN-WI border waters apply. That means only two lines per angler.

More generally, all the water--backwater or main channel--between the railroad tracks on either side of the main channel of the Mississippi are considered MN-WIN boundary waters. Anglers with a resident license for either state may fish anywhere between the railroad tracks on either side of the river.

However, and this is where there has been some confusion over the years, when fishing on the Minnesota side of the border that runs down the river, usually in the main channel, all anglers, even Wisconsin residents, must obey Minnesota's regulations for MN-WI Mississippi boundary waters. That means two lines per angler on the Minnesota side.

On the Wisconsin side, anglers must, or may, comply with Wisconsin's regulations for the MN-WI boundary waters of the Mississippi.

Not so long ago (this is the confusing part), some COs interpreted the law as meaning that Wisconsin anglers could follow Wisconsin MN-WI boundary water regulations anywhere between the railroad tracks, while Minnesota residents had to follow Minnesota's boundary regulations, even on the Wisconsin side, and even if they had a Wisconsin non-resident license. That obviously caused problems, and in the last few years that interpretation was scrapped by all COs on the Mississippi, so far as I know.

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I drove out on the Airport Lake yesterday morning and fished for a few hours.

That is, I "fished", and didn't "catch". laugh Bartlett usually has a decent sunfish bite through the mid-winter doldrums, and doesn't go dead the way many lakes do. This year is apparently different.

I didn't catch anything in three hours of fishing. No panfish, no largemouth or Northern on the tip-up. No one else I talked to caught anything, either. I was also told the bite has really dropped off over the last couple weeks.

At least now I know not to try Bartlett again until late ice, if I get up there before March.

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  • 2 months later...

Lawrence Lake by Brownsville seems to have fallen off this site's radar: it certainly fell off my radar. I decided that with the late ice it was time to hit it for the first time in six or seven years this weekend. That ended up being a pretty good call. cool

When I drove past the lake this afternoon there was no one on the main lake a mile or so north of the marina, which did not surprise me. The good fishing there was always in the weeds in 5' of water or less, and this winter that stuff is probably still frozen most of the way to the mud.

There were people in the bay by the marina itself, so I pulled in there and started fishing at about a quarter after five.

The east-facing shoreline was in poor shape, but a out from shore there was still about 30" of ice. I busted open a couple of holes in about 8' of water, dropped a suck minnow on a tip-up down one, and set up with panfish rigs on the other.

My tip-up did not get touched, but the bluegill and crappie were on my bait from the moment I started fishing. I caught fish more or less constantly for an hour and a half, and ended up keeping my limit of ten. I did not catch any of the 9"+ Lawrence Lake bluegills of a decade or more ago, but enough of these 8" fish to make sorting through smaller sunfish worth while. (The crappies were about the same size as the bluegill. laugh )



I'm going to hit up some other water tomorrow afternoon, and whichever produces better will be my target Monday morning. But being able to fish ice, much less 30" of ice, this late in March in southeast Minnesota makes it a good weekend. grin

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was out last friday on the nice day clear skys with the bro. we did pretty good on the crappies and land some nice large bass.. Here a little clip of the video was wandering if any one was out and how did they do.

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Nice video! But you didn't show any back ground. How are we suppose to know where you were on the river? frown

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