Warmth brings anglers window of opportunity

Baudette, Minn. – Sixty to 70 degrees, breezy, and sunny can do
serious damage to March ice in Minnesota. But as the ice
deteriorates on state lakes, ice-out boat angling is near, and
hoards of walleye anglers prepare to travel north to fish the Rainy
River.

As of earlier this week, ice fishing was wrapping up in the deep
south of the state, but remained a viable option in the northern
two-thirds of the state. Meanwhile, open-water fishing on the famed
Rainy was predicted to begin within days.

Art Gustafson operates Clementson Resort just east of Baudette
on the Rainy. With temperatures hovering 10 to 20 degrees above
average during the week, he said Tuesday that fishing wouldn’t be
far off.

“Judging from what I saw the other day, it’s gonna bust, and
it’s gonna bust soon,” he said.

Gustafson said the Rainy had opened near the little burg of
Loman. The Rainy flows west and north, and he estimated that at a
rate of ice-out moving four to five miles a day, open water could
arrive at Birchdale – the first major access point to open up – by
this weekend or shortly thereafter.

The Little Fork River, which typically influences the flow and
clarity of the Rainy when it begins to drain into the river, was
still frozen earlier in the week, Gustafson said. “It’s melting
really nice and slow at this point,” he said.

That’s important, as a rapid melt and heavy flow into the Rainy
can muddy the water and effectively end walleye fishing.

Otherwise, anglers can expect walleye fishing unlike that seen
most other places in Minnesota. It’s part of the reason landings
along the Rainy – such as Frontier, west of Birchdale – can see as
many as 300 rigs being loaded onto the river in a single day,
according to Tom Heinrich, of the DNR Fisheries office in
Baudette.

The walleye season runs through April 14, and anglers are able
to keep two fish under 191/2 inches. But that’s not why anglers
drive hundreds of miles to fish the river that separates the United
States and Canada.

It’s more for the potential number of fish that can be caught,
as well as the size of those fish, according to Gustafson.

“When conditions are good, you could go out and catch 100 fish
in a day,” he said. “Eleven-pounders are not uncommon.”

There are a few other guidelines anglers should follow if they
pursue Rainy walleyes. There’s an “imaginary” line that runs down
the middle of the river; unless you also have a fishing license
from Ontario, stay on the U.S. side of the river. How do you know?
Gustafson supplies this rule of thumb: “If you fall overboard,
which side of the river would you swim to?”

If you arrive to fish the river early, you may have to push your
craft over some shore ice to open water, but Gustafson said county
crews are usually quick to break up the ice at accesses.

Most anglers will either anchor or slow-drift with jigs and
minnows, he said. Leeches also work, and may be available soon.

Anglers on the Rainy also can expect to catch a sturgeon, but
only catch and release is allowed for that species. Gustafson said
some anglers who hook the big fish often cut their lines, as
battling a sturgeon will sometimes take the better portion of half
an hour.

Heinrich said anglers should keep in mind restrictions on
movement of live bait, and recommends anglers leaving the river
either give their leftover minnows to another angler, or kill
them.

He also suggests anglers, when parking their rigs, consider
local residents’ need to travel in the area, sometimes with large
logging or farming equipment.

“(Parking) is the biggest issue we’ve had to deal with the past
several years,” he said.

Inquiries about Rainy River fishing can be made by calling
Clementson Resort at (800) 433-6085 or the Royal Dutchman motel at
(800) 908-1024.

Across the state

By order of the sheriff’s department, lakes in Murray County in
southwestern Minnesota have been closed to travel, conservation
officer Jim Robinson reported this week. He said ice had become
unsafe on lakes like Shetek and Sarah a couple weeks ago, had
firmed up with colder weather, but in the past few days had begun
to open up. Most lakes in the area have aeration systems, the open
water around which serves as a good place for deterioration to
begin.

“Sixty degrees and wind really cuts it open,” Robinson said.

Just a ways north, in the Mankato area, lake ice was beginning
to reach the “iffy” stage. Paul Rosenberg, owner of The Bobber
Shop, said landings were breaking up, and simply getting on
suitable ice was difficult. On some lakes, ATV travel was possible,
but that wasn’t expected to last long, given the forecast for more
warmth.

But, he said, area anglers might already be looking forward to
boating and open water.

“I think they’re tired of it (ice fishing),” he said. “It’s been
a long time when we’ve had a four-month ice season.”

Up the left side of state, in the Ortonville area, anglers are
holding onto their ice-fishing season, for now, on places like Big
Stone Lake.

“Right now, it’s still real good, but it’s at a point where it
can get bad real quick,” said Greg Rasset, of Bud’s Bait. He said
anglers were driving vehicles onto Big Stone last weekend, but that
a lot of water was running through the ice, weakening it, and this
weekend, by foot was a more highly recommended mode of travel.

“(Ice fishing) is going to come to an end quick,” he said.

Most locations in northern Minnesota still had plenty of ice as
of earlier this week. In Detroit Lakes, John Store, of Quality Bait
and Tackle, said there remained 3-plus feet of ice on most
lakes.

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