Ice fishing still going strong statewide

Staff Writer

Faribault, Minn. Even though the calendar says it’s spring,
winter has maintained its icy grip.

One year ago this week, the first crappies of the spring were
being pulled from open water in the Faribault area. The same was
true at a few spots around Lake Minnetonka and in the St. Cloud
area. South of St. Cloud by the end of March 2004, anglers could
find plenty of open water to fish.

What a difference a year a makes. The Faribault area received 14
inches of snow during last Friday’s snowstorm. Open water isn’t
even a thought, and it appears as though anglers in the southern
third of the state will have an extended ice fishing season this
year.

“There are trucks all over the lakes in this area,” said Brent
Lake, of Faribault Bait and Tackle. “The shorelines are intact and
we’ve got 20 inches of good ice.”

According to historical ice-out dates compiled by the DNR, most
lakes in the Faribault area are traditionally considered ice-free
by March 27. That’s this weekend, but Lake says if you plan on
fishing the Faribault area over the weekend, you better bring a
power auger.

Another passage of spring, walleye fishing out of boats on the
Rainy River, also is behind schedule. Since the river is a border
water fishery, the walleye season remains open through April
14.

According to Sandee Anderson, of Clementson Resort, there were
boats dumped in the Rainy River on March 18 last spring. As of last
Monday afternoon, there were still fish houses in the Birchdale
area of the Rainy. But Anderson said that ice conditions can change
in a hurry, and she fully expects to see boats on the river no
later than Sunday, March 28.

The Rainy River is open approximately five miles east of
Birchdale. Once it starts opening, the ice traditionally goes out
fast.

“It can be here today, gone tomorrow,” Anderson said. “I
wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few anglers sliding boats over
shoreline ice by this weekend.”

Anderson added that there have been many years where she’s taken
pictures of trucks on the river and seen boats in that exact same
spot two days later.

“Once it starts melting, the ice goes quickly due to the runoff
and current,” she said.

In the metro area, there’s still 22 inches of ice on Lake
Minnetonka, which traditionally opens by the second week of April.
The channels and bays already were open last year at this time, and
it appears that many anglers are waiting anxiously for open water
again this year.

“You can still drive all over the lakes in this area,” said Tim
Sonenstahl of Wayzata Bait and Tackle. “But, I can honestly say
that 90 percent of the anglers have given up on the ice fishing
season. They want open water.”

Sonenstahl is hoping for continued sunshine, and he wouldn’t
mind a few days of heavy rains mixed in, either.

For anglers eager to fish open water, the Mississippi River near
Red Wing is an option. Although this area received as much as 11
inches of snow last weekend, it didn’t affect the fishing or
launching a boat in the river.

While accesses on the Minnesota side remain ice-covered, several
accesses on the Wisconsin side have been being used for weeks.

North of Brainerd, where ice-out usually doesn’t occur until
mid-April, (later farther north) there’s still plenty of time to
ice fish. In fact, ice conditions have actually improved as the
snow, which caused slush on many lakes, continues to melt.

“I’m glad we didn’t get the snow they did down south,” said
Roger Croaker of Nodak’s Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish. “We’ve still
got some deep snow pockets on the lake.”

Croaker said it’s easier to travel on the lake now than it was
three weeks ago due to the snow melting. He still advises people
driving on with vehicles to watch where they’re going.

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