The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 15, 2013

Cross: Happy (ice-fishing) days are here already

By John Cross jcross@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — The cold weather that arrived early and hard these past few weeks has been no small source of complaining.

Not that grousing about it does much good, anyway.

But the same weather that has many folks wearing frowns has people like Paul Rosenberg, Ryan White, Cathy Winkler and Walt Hohn smiling.

After weathering a succession of years when the hard water season was late in coming, the area bait-and-tackle store owners already are doing a brisk business as ice anglers head to area lakes now coated with strong, clear ice.

At the Bobber Shop in Mankato, owner Rosenberg was doing a brisk business.

“This has been the best start of the ice-fishing season in the last seven or eight years,” he said between customers queuing up to buy bait and tackle.

At White’s Corner Bait in Madison Lake, it is a similar story.

“It’s been phenomenal, the busiest I’ve been by far,” he said. “Even the wholesale bait dealers have said it has been the best they’ve seen in 20 years.”

Cathy Winkler, owner of Winkler’s Live Bait Farm in Mankato, agreed that the early and solid arrival of winter conditions have been good for the bait business.

Winkler, who sells bait on both a wholesale and retail level, said the early start to the ice-fishing season this year will take a little of the financial sting away from the slow spring.

“It was so cold this spring that for awhile, we weren’t even able to get leeches or shiners,” she said.

Indeed, many lakes in Minnesota still were ice-covered for the opening weekend of the Minnesota Fishing Opener on May 11.

And adding insult to injury, it also snowed across many areas of the state on the opener, putting a chill on many Minnesotans’ desire to wet a line on what normally is the the biggest fishing weekend of the season.

Walt Hohn echoed similar sentiments.

“Business has been real good, so far,” he said. “Right now, ice conditions are about 3 1/2 weeks ahead of where they were last year at this time.

He said that the last six or seven years have been tough ones for the ice-fishing business but that with good ice so early and with the Christmas break coming up, things are looking up.

“To have good ice by the time Christmas and vacations come around can make the whole season for us,” Hohn said.

The most adventurous anglers already were blazing trails on foot across new ice in late November.

Tom Brunz of Madison Lake got an early start to his ice fishing season on Thanksgiving when he checked out the east end of Lake Frances.

While he found three inches of good ice, he didn’t find any cooperative fish.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Chris How said he found about eight inches of ice a week ago while checking anglers on area lakes. Since then, he has heard reports of a few vehicles out on area lakes.

“But I haven’t personally seen any out there,” he said, adding that most anglers were reaching their fishing spots on foot or on ATVs.

Brunz found as much as 12 inches of good ice on Lake George last week. But once again, fish proved elusive for the seasoned tournament angler.

“I’ve got this theory — it’s just a theory — that it froze so quick and it’s been so cold that the fish haven’t really adapted to the winter conditions yet,” he said., predicting that fishing will soon improve.

How agreed, saying that with notable exceptions, he saw very few noteworthy catches among the anglers he checked.

However, anglers reported a good walleye bite on Loon Lake early on. Likewise, anglers on Lake Henry caught a few walleyes, as well.

Elsewhere, anglers are reporting limited success on Baker’s Bay on Lake Washington and on Duck Lake for panfish.

With continued cold weather predicted, it won’t be long — possibly this weekend — when area lakes will be sufficiently frozen to safely support vehicle traffic.

Just keep in mind that when it comes to driving a car where just a month ago, boats were floating, safe is a relative term.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 507 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.