The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 4, 2014

Northern lakes may not be ready for opener


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Averages are the result of extremes.

And when it comes to average ice-out dates on Minnesota lakes, nature has been at both ends of extreme in just the past two years.

For example, in 2012, the ice officially went out on Lake Winnibigoshish on March 30, the earliest date on record.

Last year, the pendulum swung far in the opposite direction, setting a new record for the latest ice-out on May 17, eclipsing the previous record of May 10.

Usually full and bustling with activity on the opening weekend of the Minnesota fishing season, resorts in northern Minnesota were quiet places last year as lingering ice-cover on popular walleye destinations short-circuited many anglers’ long-standing tradition of heading north.

Many anglers opted instead to stay home or head to southern Minnesota lakes that already were ice-free.

This year, lakes in southern Minnesota lost their ice cover in mid-April, about 7 to 10 days behind average ice-out dates.

While south-state anglers might find things a little behind schedule in terms of water temperatures and fish activity and even evidence of fish kills on some waters, the opener should be business as usual with lakes and access sites in good shape.

But good news for anglers and resort owners in northern reaches of the state, with the exception of some locations in the extreme north, most lakes, including popular walleye fisheries like Winnibigoshish, Leech and Mille Lacs, also should be open for business Saturday when the Inland Waters Fishing Season opens.

“A lot of the smaller lakes around here already are open, and the ice is pushing around right now on Winnie, it’s opening up along the edges” said Richard Leonhardt of High Banks Resort, last week.

“We’re fairly optimistic the lake will be open (by Saturday).”

Leonhardt said that in spite of the lingering chilly weather, everything is a lot further along than it was last year at this time.

At Brindley’s Harbor and Resort located on Leech Lake’s Trapper Bay, Tim Campbell is equally as confident the lake, along with his resort, will be open for business Saturday.

“The wind has been pushing the ice around, it’s starting to pile up along the shoreline,” he said. “Last year, the ice didn’t go out here until three days after the opener. It was horrible.”

Henry Drews, DNR Regional Fisheries Manager in Bemidji, also was confident that most lakes in the region should be ice-free or nearly so by Saturday.

“The most recent satellite imagery of Upper and Lower Red Lake showed the ice-pack was beginning to crack and move around so I would expect that lake to be ice-free by the opener,” he said.

Even if the area lakes aren’t totally ice-free, he said what little bit of ice that might still remain shouldn’t create any difficulty for anglers.

Terry Thurmer of Terry’s Boat Harbor on the east side of Lake Mille Lacs isn’t quite as optimistic.

“I’d sure like to hope it would be, but there’s an awful lot of ice out there yet,” He said. “I’m not so sure.”

Thurmer said last year was the first time in the 25 years he has owned the business that the lake still remained frozen on the fishing opener.

Lakes further north also remain a question mark. Depending on the weather and the way the wind blows, anglers might be able to fish Lake of the Woods Saturday.

Drews said a south wind would drive the remaining ice pack northward, making the edge of the lake accessible to anglers, while a blow from the north would effectively cut anglers off from getting on the water.

“But if that happens, anglers would still be able to fish the river and Four-Mile Bay,” he said.

Drews said that regardless of where they fish, anglers in northern Minnesota can expect to find water temperatures in the 30s and low 40s.

The cold water temperatures also will mean that some waters where walleyes still are spawning will be temporarily closed to angling. Anglers should check the DNR website for those locations.

Finally, noting everything is running about a week later than normal, Drews said anglers shouldn’t be surprised to find some access sites without the customary loading docks or other facilities in place for the opener.

“Given the late ice-out, even with crews working 18-hour shifts, it’s going to be a real challenge to get all of them ready for the opener,” he said.

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