When Bradley Whiting saw the flag from his tip-up snap upward Monday near sundown on Prior Lake, he knew he was in business. He just wasn’t sure what had inhaled his minnow.
The fish, he said, acted casually: It swam and stopped, and swam and stopped.
“It didn’t really run or anything at first, so I kind of thought it was a walleye,” said the 34-year-old from Jordan. “My tip-ups have been cursed here — I haven’t caught a decent-sized northern in three years. But it wasn’t fighting like a northern, either.”
As the fish was pulled closer to the hole, however, Whiting quickly determined it was in fact a northern pike — and a jumbo-sized toothy critter at that. A 20-minute fight ensued before he landed the 37-incher, which weighed nearly 15 pounds.
A nice pike for a heavily fished metro-area lake.
“Every time it got close to the hole, it would dive and make a run,” Whiting said. “When I finally had him at the top of hole, he shook his head and the hook came out and flew past my face. I just reacted and grabbed the fish with both hands in the hole. I had to bear-paw ’im. It was pretty fun.”
Prior Lake has long been a fashionable south-metro ice-fishing destination for anglers like Whiting. Now the city and its namesake Scott County lake have become a sort of unofficial suburban hub for activities leading up to Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Action around and on the popular lake will heat up on Jan. 31 when the restaurant Charlie’s on Prior hosts a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network. For $200 a ticket, attendees can meet and greet Vikings alumni and Hall of Famers, including Carl Eller, Chuck Foreman, Ron Yary and many others while their kids learn to ice fish and ride snowmobiles.
“Most Super Bowls are associated with beaches and palm trees and warmer climates, but we wanted to have an event that showcased the Minnesota outdoors. Snowmobiling and ice fishing are what we do here in winter, and that’s what we wanted to celebrate and show the nation,” said Rick Gardner, part-time event manager for U.S. Bank Stadium. “It should be a blast.”
An avid ice angler himself, Gardner, who lives in Prior Lake, said all equipment — from fishing rods to ice houses to snowmobile attire — will be furnished for attendees. As a bonus, a traditional fish shore lunch will be served.
Gardner said he’s hoping to raise at least $50,000 for Gillette Children’s Hospital, which is affiliated with Children’s Miracle Network.
“It’s for a good cause,” he said.
Prior Lake is actually two watersheds — Upper Prior (386 acres) and Lower Prior (956 acres). Collectively, it’s one of the south metro’s most popular fisheries. In winter, clusters of ice houses can be found as anglers chase panfish, walleyes, perch and, like Whiting, northern pike.
The lake has five public access points. And the city of Prior Lake has 13 additional lakes within its boundaries.
“Prior has a lot of water and a lot of fish,” said Erik Mosell, manager at Prior Lake Bait & Tackle. “The fishing of late has been good across the board, but we have one the hottest local bites for big pike going right now. A lot of fish in the 40-inch range are being caught.”
Joel Nelson of Cannon Falls is an ice-fishing pro staffer for several companies. He has fished Prior Lake many times and said crappies and walleyes are great targets for would-be winter anglers, whether from the Twin Cities and surrounding area or just visiting for the Super Bowl.
“In midwinter, crappies school up in basins, where they can be targeted by anglers,” he said. “They can be anywhere in the water column, so a flasher is especially helpful. Twenty-five-foot depressions will hold fish all winter, but there are enough of these on Prior that you don’t have to fish community holes.”
Walleyes, Nelson said, are “rarer, and can be finicky, but are worth the effort.” According the Minnesota Department Natural Resources, a combination of walleye fry, yearlings and adults has been stocked in Prior Lake every other year since 2009.
“Walleyes in Prior are fewer but nice-sized when you can find them,” Nelson said. “Focus on low-light periods, even after dark, on any of the main lake points and associated underwater structure.”
Above all, he said, learn the lake and its features. “Like any lake, you have to do your homework if you hope to catch fish. Prior Lake is no different,” Nelson said.
As for Gardner, he hopes fundraiser attendees enjoy some lasting memories.
“How cool would it be to get a photo of you fishing with Carl Eller or another Viking?” he said. “That would be priceless and better than any autograph.”