Cold boosts ice-making but bad timing for snow
Spicer, Minn. — Up-north dealers of bait and ice-fishing equipment and their resorter counterparts said last weekend was a pretty good one, with the onset of colder weather building ice by the hour. Those in the central part of Minnesota, where snowfall Saturday and Sunday was somewhere in the neighborhood of a foot, may beg to differ.
While the northern half and the far southern parts of Minnesota largely dodged the snowy bullet, about one-third of the midsection did not, raising concerns about what that might mean in the development of lake ice.
The small, shallow lakes in the Spicer area, for example, are likely to be affected by the snowfall, according to Brad Carlson, DNR assistant fisheries supervisor in that city.
“There’s going to be very dangerous ice conditions this winter,” he said earlier this week. “(The heavy snow) is going to make ice-fishing difficult this winter on a lot of lakes.”
The problem, according to Carlson, was that good ice was developing prior to an early December warmup. When the area received just over a foot of snow last weekend, it fell on ice just an inch or so thick, insulating the ice from more rapid thickening, and hiding potentially thin spots.
However, weather is prone to change in the state, and a warm spell could melt the snow, and allow for more favorable ice formation, Carlson said. He added that larger lakes in west-central Minnesota – like Koronis and Green – had open water and should be OK, given favorable conditions in coming days.
The condition of ice on some Twin Cities metro lakes, too, might have suffered from heavy snow dropped on thin ice.
However, Bubba Rauter, of Cabin Fever Sports in Victoria, reports most area lakes were at least partially open. The snow – a heavy, wet variety at least in its early stages – probably sunk a lot of the sheet ice that existed, he said.
“I don’t think the snow was a huge detriment,” Rauter said, adding that temperatures approaching zero earlier this week had frozen over the waters of smaller lakes.
He said the metro snow, which was near a foot in the southwestern portion, wouldn’t affect large lakes like Waconia and Minnetonka, which were mostly open when the snow arrived Saturday night.
Things have been changing rapidly, and in a good way for ice anglers, this week in northern Minnesota.
The ice on bays on the southeast side of Mille Lacs ranged from 3 to 5 inches earlier this week, and was slowly thickening, according to Matt Wagenaar, of Johnson’s Portside. The entire lake, he said, appeared to be frozen over.
Anglers were using ATVs to access fishing spots in the bays.
The six to eight inches of snow received in the area may have some effect on ice development on Mille Lacs.
“Hopefully it doesn’t screw it up too bad,” Wagenaar said.
North of Brainerd, weekend snowfall drops off rapidly.
On Monday, Craig Brown, of McArdle’s Resort on Lake Winnibigoshish, reported only about three inches of snow that arrived during the weekend, and cold weather building ice.
“I wouldn’t think that would affect (ice creation) at all,” Brown said.
Near shore, on the lake’s southwest side, Brown said there was about seven to eight inches of ice. However, he cautioned about thin ice elsewhere. About a week ago, he said, a strip of open water could be seen about three-fourths of a mile from shore. “It was like a river running through,” he said.
That has since froze, but represents an area that could contain hazardous, thin ice.
Excellent ice appears to be in the immediate future for lakes in the Park Rapids area, according to Kevin Lempola, of Delaney’s bait shop.
“We lucked out and didn’t get much (weekend snow),” Lempola said, adding that only an inch or so fell in the area. “As of this morning (Monday), most all of our big lakes have at least a glaze-over (of ice).”
Some of the not-so-large lakes, he said, had around seven inches of ice.
“It’s definitely good, walkable ice,” he said.
On Upper Red Lake, ice fishermen were getting off their feet and getting onto ATVs this week, according to Todd Mortenson, of Mort’s Dock. He, too, was relieved heavy snow missed the area during the formative stages of Red ice.
“Luckily, we dodged the snow,” he said. “We’re making ice now, and (the lake) is capped over pretty good.”
Most of the ice upon which ice anglers were trodding was around 10 inches thick. By the weekend, Mortenson said, it seemed likely fishermen would be driving vehicles onto Upper Red.
Further, he said, “Fishing’s been good.”
The midsummer protected walleye slot carried over to the ice-fishing season this year, meaning instead of tossing back walleyes from 17 to 26 inches, only those 20 to 26 inches need to be released this winter.
According to the DNR and others, Lake of the Woods ice has been ever-changing in recent weeks.
Just over a week ago, Baudette-area Conservation Officer Jeff Birchem reported anglers needed rescue personnel to retrieve them from an ice floe that broke loose from the Lake of the Woods shoreline. While the two anglers were brought ashore, Birchem said an ATV and a fish house remain stranded, likely to be picked up later this year when better ice covers the big border water.
“(The fishermen) were fishing from (ice near shore) and they heard a crack … and before they knew it, they were 100 feet from shore,” Birchem said.
By the time an airboat reached the anglers, the chunk of ice with the ATV and fish house was several miles from shore, he said.
That incident serves to demonstrate the inconsistencies in Lake of the Woods ice, the CO said. Earlier this week, Birchem said that while some parts of the lake have 10 inches of ice, others have around two inches.
But ice all over should begin to thicken, now that the lake is capped and the ice not susceptible to hard, sustained winds.
Given consistent conditions, Birchem said he expects the areas that are now 10 and two inches to be about 25 and 16 inches, respectively, in a month or so.
He also suggests visiting anglers contact resorters or others for fishing information and ice conditions.
One of those, Brian Ney, of Adrian’s Resort, was setting up fish houses on the ice earlier this week, generally over 18 to 20 feet of water.
“We’re a couple days behind (usual schedule), but we’ve seen quite a few fishermen,” Ney said.
On Tuesday, the DNR warned people via a press release about the dangers of being on ice too soon.
The release said layers of snow are insulating already brittle ice, making it even more dangerous.
“The ice was not safe before Sunday’s snow and now it’s going to take even longer for it to become thick enough for travel,” said Capt. Greg Salo, DNR regional enforcement supervisor.