Deteriorating ice may force a change in fishing tactics

Fairmont, Minn. — Across a large swath of Minnesota, it’s likely ice anglers won’t wait till the state deadline to remove their permanent fish houses from the 2016-17 ice. Rather, Mother Nature intends to force their hand. Above-average temperatures last weekend, expected to be followed by way above-average temps this weekend could significantly alter the state’s ice-fishing landscape.

Justin Sommer, of Sommer Outdoors in the southern Minnesota city of Fairmont, said there’s still over a foot of ice on most lakes in that area, but the recent weather has taken its toll.

“There’s still 12 to 15 inches, but the top 3 to 4 inches is already crapped up,” Sommer said.

As of earlier this week, he said lake accesses remained in pretty good shape, but that’s a tenuous situation. Forecasts were calling for five straight days with highs above 50 degrees across the southern third of the state. During that time (Friday through Tuesday), lows weren’t expected below freezing. A few raindrops also appeared in the forecast, adding another element detrimental to good ice.

“This weekend, I’m already anticipating this will be the end (of ice fishing locally),” Sommer said, adding that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that cold could return, and ice-fishing remain a viable option for state anglers.

In the metro area, ice conditions weren’t much better, according to Avery Aalfs, of Mase’s In Towne Marina, located on the south metro’s Lake Waconia.

“There’s still plenty of ice,” Aalfs said of the 15 to 17 inches that cover Waconia, “but the accesses will get rutted, sloppy and stuff. It’s hard to say how it’s gonna look in the next few days.”

If nothing else, Aalfs expects the few remaining permanent fish houses on Waconia to pulled by the weekend. After the recent warm snap, there are few left anyway, he said.

In the southern half of the state, the shelter removal date is March 6. In the north, it’s March 20. See Page 61 of the fishing regulations booklet for the north-south division.

North of the Twin Cities, ice conditions improve somewhat. According to Kevin Lempola, of Delaney’s bait shop in Park Rapids, “We’re gonna be good to go yet for a while.”

That said, Lempola isn’t happy about a potential repeat of last year, when the weather warmed, wrecking lake accesses, before turning cold again.

“This weather definitely didn’t need to come,” he said.

A few people already have removed their permanent shelters from area lakes, but he expects more to do so if the weekend’s as warm as predicted.

DNR officials say now is a  good time to begin to take those extra precautions on ice – checking conditions as you go, wearing flotation devices, etc.

Conditions vary – as has been seen on lakes like Minnetonka, where several vehicles recently have broken through. Channels always are dangerous, but a number of factors determine safety, according to Stan Linnell,  DNR boat and water safety manager. Those include a lake’s depth, if there’s snow on top, the overall size of the water body, the air temperature, and even wind.

“When we get multiple days above freezing, it really starts to affect the ice,” Linnell said. “It’s time to be a lot more careful out there.”

Adds Lisa Dugan, DNR boat and water safety outreach coordinator: “Think twice before heading out on the ice. It’s not worth risking your life for a fish.”

And, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department says vehicle traffic won’t be allowed during the Eelpout Festival, Feb. 23-26 on Leech Lake near Walker.

State conservation officers addressed the recent warm weather and its effects on ice in their reports this week. Here are some examples:

• CO Troy Richards, of Fergus Falls, said ice safety might be compromised by this weekend, given the long-range forecast. “Folks are encouraged to be mindful of the potential danger,” he wrote.

• CO Jen Mueller, of Hutchinson, said after an ATV brook through the ice of Lake Marion, the McLeod County Sheriff’s Department closed the access to the lake to vehicles.

• CO Phil Mohs, of Center City, reported that “area lake accesses have already begun to deteriorate and will make for difficult times getting on and off the lake.”

It’s a bit early to anticipate ice-out in mid-February, but some observers see exactly that shaping up for 2017. Weather, of course, can be fickle.

“Normally, there’s not ice-out until mid-April,” Sommer said of Fairmont-area lakes. “So if that happens in March, that’s crazy.”

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