The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 23, 2014

Cross column: Fishing season ends, winter season doesn't

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Lordy, but it’s been a long, long winter.

And by the looks of the forecast, it’s not ending anytime soon.

Piling insult on to injury, more sub-zero temperatures are predicted on the heels of this latest storm.

(And yes, I would like a glass for this whine — and make it a tall one, thank you.)

Not that it matters too much, but today marks the end of the gamefish season for Minnesota’s inland waters.

From now until the season reopens on May 10, anglers will make panfish their targets for the rest of what most likely will be an extended ice-fishing season.

Hardly a comforting point of reference, ice-out records kept by the Lake Washington Association list the earliest ice-out dates for that popular lake as March 8 in 1987 and again in 2000.

Last year, the ice-out date officially occurred on April 19. This year? Who knows?

Travel conditions on many area lakes in recent weeks have grown increasingly difficult to the point that even 4x4s are having difficulty getting around. Shovels definitely need to be carried.

In some cases, most prudent anglers have discovered it pays to travel in pairs so that one vehicle can use one of those stretchable snatch straps to extricate the other from snowbanks.

Ice shelter owners who haven’t visited their fishing abodes recently likely will be in for an unpleasant surprise when they attempt to remove them.

Already last week, retrieving shelters that were well off the beaten path through the deep snow was becoming a difficult proposition.

But now, after this latest winter blow, getting them off the lake will be even more of a challenge.

The deadline for removing them in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota is March 3. Anglers in northern reaches of the state have until March 17.

The DNR is suggesting that with that deadline looming and in view of the difficult conditions, anglers would be wise to get their shelters off the ice sooner rather than later.

Thor Nelson, a DNR conservation officer stationed in New Ulm, said there’s been a flurry of activity on the lakes in his area in recent days as anglers have been removing their houses.

“It hasn’t been too troublesome getting around on the lakes in our area,” he said. “Hanska pretty much blows clean and some have been out on lakes with snow plows.”

“But with this latest snow, that will probably change,” he said, urging anglers not to wait until the last minute to remove their houses.

The list of Minnesota lakes that had been open to liberalized fishing regulations through today because of the threat of winterkill had grown to 10.

In the Mankato area, only Dora Lake has been open to liberalized fishing. High Island Lake near New Auburn in Sibley County was the next-closest lake to be opened.

But undoubtedly, there will be other shallow, south-central Minnesota lakes that will succumb in coming weeks to the effects of the prolonged severe winter conditions.

It’s never a pleasant discovery at ice-out to see the bleached carcasses of hundreds of dead fish wind-rowed along the shore of a lake that has died over the course of the winter.

While many area lakes now have aeration systems installed to stave off such events, it’s impossible sometimes to defeat Mother Nature.

Most area anglers can recall several popular lakes in south-central Minnesota that periodically offer phenomenal angling, only to eventually be decimated by a savage winter such as the one we’re now enduring.

But the great fishing that anglers had previously in some of the shallow, fertile waters that dot the area most likely came on the heels of a severe winterkill, followed by some intense stocking programs by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

True, it always takes a few years for the fishery to come back from a severe winterkill.

But when it comes to fishing, as every angler knows, patience always is a virtue.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by email at