On the last weekend in January, the world’s biggest ice fishing tournament will take place on Gull Lake, near Brainerd, Minnesota.
But Ana Leschishin — known to her Instagram fans as @ana_on_ice — won’t be there. Given her unabashed love for hard-water reeling, I was a little surprised to hear that the Duluth, Minnesota native would be absent.
Ana prefers to follow her own path, though.
“I like to stray from the crowds and find new structure,” she says.
Besides, on the last weekend in January, Ana will be otherwise occupied, over on Bowstring Lake, close to Grand Rapids, shooting an episode of Outdoor Bound TV. In case you hadn’t guessed, ice fishing is kind of Ana’s thing.
She’s been doing it since she was five years old. An obsession fishing combined with an extreme case of cabin fever until friends and family intervened with the gear she needed to get out on the ice. Ana hasn’t looked back.
It was the inland waters near Duluth — Wild Rice Lake (“shallow, but great walleye fishing!”), Boulder Dam Lake, Fish Lake, and the St. Louis River — where Ana honed her skills. And where she discovered that all fish are not the same.
Crappie and walleye — especially walleye — became her favorite quarry. And Ana targets them ice or no ice. She casts for them in the spring and summer and generally jigs for them in the winter.
“Walleye movement is crazy in winter time,” she says. “You have to be versatile and on the move. It’s all about the game of finding what makes them tick.”
According to Ana, winter walleye patterns change are always changing. You have to adjust at the very least on a daily basis and often throughout the day as you’re fishing.
Now a natural food sales broker who lives in the Twin Cities metro, Ana is a little farther from her favorite fisheries, the St. Louis River and Lake of the Woods on the Canadian border, but she’s found some spots in the West Metro and along the St. Croix River where she can make a quick get away if she needs to.
“You just have to look for mainland structure,” Ana says. “Points. Islands. Movement of water. Vegetation. Walleyes are hunters, moving up and down through the water all day, you just have to find where they are.”
Ana’s go-to bait is the Acme Kastmaster. She likes it in the original silver because walleye will hit it reliably regardless of water clarity.
“They’ll go after it in stained or clear water,” she says.
The Rapala Ultra Light Jigging Rap is another favorite. Ana likes it so much, in fact, that she works with Rapala as a pro.
But not just any pro. Ana is one of the first two women that Rapala brought on as ice pros. And that’s a big deal.
“It’s really important to me to get more women involved in the sport,” she says. “Many women are intimidated and think they need to bring a man along. I want to show then that they can do it on their own.”
For Ana, as much as she loves the challenge of chasing walleyes, fishing means much more.
“It’s about disconnecting from the world and technology. When I’m fishing, I’m in a single layer of being. In nature. In another world that’s always existed. It’s getting in touch with nature and food and where it comes from.”