Ice fishing season begins in northern Minnesota

Kelliher, Minn. — It didn’t take long for ice to start developing across the northern part of the state. After unseasonably warm weather prior to Thanksgiving, a timely cold front made ice fishing an option shortly after the holiday.

Anglers chipped or drilled their first fishing holes of the season on several lakes across northern Minnesota this week. In other locations, they might be starting by this weekend.

Many lakes that capped with the cold weather late last week have remained covered and continued to build ice despite temperatures creeping up a bit more than eager ice fishermen would prefer.

But people were fishing, and in some places quite comfortably. Generally, north of Brainerd anglers probably will find ice thick enough to walk on by the weekend.

From central Minnesota lakes and south, some fisheries are covered with skim ice, others remain mostly ice-free, and small, shallow lakes are close to becoming safe enough for foot travel.

On Upper Red Lake, ice conditions are in good shape and the entire fishery appeared to be ice-covered earlier this week. Anglers were reporting as much as seven inches of ice close to shore, with less ice farther out, but the winter fishing season has started.

Jerry Barthel, of Rogers on Red, which is located on the south shore of the lake, says anglers were going about a quarter-mile out from shore on Monday and were catching walleyes. He expects a lot of traffic on the lake this weekend.

“Everything looks really good at this point and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some four-wheelers on the lake this weekend,” Barthel said Tuesday morning. “We had guys fishing out of here Monday night on seven inches of good ice, and they caught their limits in a short amount of time.”

Ice-fishing options at Lake of the Woods were limited early this week, but not out of the question for the upcoming weekend. Ice has taken hold in Four Mile Bay, the Rainy River, and on the lake side of Pine Island so if the wind remains relatively calm, there’s likely to be people fishing it during the next few days.

Brian Ney, of Adrian’s Resort, took to the lake with a hovercraft on Monday to get a grasp on how the ice was shaping up. He was encouraged by what he found, with two to four inches of ice in the bay and about two inches on the lake.

“There was more 4-inch ice than 2-inch ice so it didn’t look too bad,” Ney said. “It’s not supposed to be windy so I’m sure we’ll have some people on it this weekend, but I won’t stake a trail until I know it’s good.”

Depending on the weather, it might be another week or so before several of the state’s other big bodies of water and traditional ice-fishing destinations are safe enough for anglers to walk.

Lakes such as Mille Lacs and Rainy only had ice in the harbors and along the shorelines, with main-lake areas still presenting only open water.

On Lake Winnibigoshish, a good portion of the main lake was ice-covered, but the wind had opened some spots back up. The Third River area and Mississippi River area were locked tight.

At Leech Lake, much of the main lake and Walker Bay remained ice-free on Tuesday morning, although Shingobee Bay, Steamboat Bay, and most small lakes in the area were capped.

The small, shallow lakes around Grand Rapids were covered with ice and the bigger lakes were starting to freeze, according to Ben Kellin, of Ben’s Bait and Tackle. Some of those small lakes should be good to go for foot traffic this weekend, even if it does warm a bit.

“We haven’t had anyone out as of Monday, but the traditional early spots will have guys on them this weekend – we’ll be rolling by the weekend on some of our lakes,” Kellin said.

Kevin Lempola, of Delaney’s Sporting Goods in Park Rapids, also expected to see anglers walking on more lakes in this area during the week. On Tuesday, he was aware of two lakes in the Park Rapids area that already had anglers on them.

He says the bigger lakes won’t be approachable, but on those bodies of water where fishing already has taken place, four inches of ice seemed to be the norm.

“We’re hearing four inches now and I expect more ice by the weekend,” Lempola said. “It’s a good sheet of ice and I’m sure they’ll be getting on more lakes, so it looks like a good start to the season.” 

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