Schmitt Contributing Writer
St. Paul — Warm weather, snow, slush, thin ice, and fewer
anglers have captured headlines during the ice fishing season.
Although January is nearly half over, ice conditions remain
unpredictable in most areas of the state. Ice always is, but this
year has provided a wide range of varying ice conditions rarely
encountered by anglers this late in the winter.
Reports this week again indicate ice depths from two inches on
some lakes to more than 16 inches on others. No ice-related
fatalities have been reported, but Tim Smalley, DNR water safety
specialist believes anglers should remain extremely cautious as
they venture onto Minnesota lakes.
“We’ve had some odd years with ice conditions, but this one
takes the cake,” Smalley said. “There are certainly plenty of
places to ice fish, but I wouldn’t just go anywhere and expect to
find as much ice as we should have by this time of year.”
Smalley pointed to the metro area as one region of concern. By
now, more than a foot of ice should have taken hold on Twin Cities
area lakes, but that’s not the case this winter. In fact, ice
depths have improved little during the past month.
On Lake Minnetonka, slush has been limiting ice making and
anglers’ ability to get around. A few nights of temperatures in the
teens earlier this week hardened many of the sloppy areas, but did
nothing for ice depths.
Anglers are reporting no more than eight inches of ice (less in
some areas) just as they have during the last month. What’s most
alarming is that the top several inches is often white ice or
“We have people fishing and the slush has improved, but the ice
is nowhere near as deep as it should be by now,” said Bob
Sonenstahl of Wayzata Bait and Tackle. “I doubt it’s going to get a
whole lot better the rest of the way – if nothing else, it should
be an early ice-out.”
ATVs and snowmobiles are being used in parts of the metro, but
Smalley advises anglers to check ice conditions or call a bait shop
for current ice reports before heading out on their own.
ATV or foot travel also is advised throughout central and
western Minnesota where six to eight inches of ice seems to be the
norm. There is some slush, although temperatures dipped into the
single-digits earlier this week, ultimately firming up many of
those soft spots.
Near Fairmont and Faribault, there’s enough ice to drive an ATV
on most lakes. But since driving a vehicle is not yet an option,
the number of anglers seems to be down. Many permanent houses have
remained on shore so far this season.
“There’s not nearly as many fish houses on the lakes as there
should be,” said Curt Larson of Master Sports Bait and Tackle in
Fairmont. “We’re definitely seeing less people due to ice
Many of the state’s bigger lakes are in better shape. Ice depths
on fisheries such as Mille Lacs, Winnie, and Lake of the Woods are
thick enough for trucks. Roads are plowed, and with the exception
of some small cracks, ice conditions continue to improve.
Most resorters on these lakes have been advising anglers to stay
on the plowed roads.