Ice holding across much of state, but few folks fishing

Walker, Minn. — By this time last year, ice fishing wasn’t an option across most of the state. But that was last year, and this season is providing a completely different set of circumstances.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of ice fishing taking place. Despite the fact that you’ll still find more than two feet of ice on lakes in most areas, the number of people fishing has been minimal.

The main problem across northern Minnesota continues to be deep snow and a lot of water piling up beneath it. In many cases north of Brainerd, you simply can’t travel on the majority of lakes unless you walk or drive a snowmobile, and even that’s difficult with all the slush.

“It’s better than it was a week ago, and now everything refroze so it should be a good weekend to fish,” Ben Kellin, of Ben’s Bait and Tackle in Grand Rapids, said Tuesday morning. “It’s not as good north of here, but I’m planning to see truck traffic on most accesses by the end of the week.”

Jack Shriver, of Shriver’s Bait in Walker, said Leech Lake was nearly impossible to move around on earlier this week. He talked to one angler who buried his snowmobile in the slush and spent the better part of his fishing outing trying to get it freed.

Shriver said the warm weather has “knocked the snow down a bit” on the lake, but there’s still a lot of it, and the slush will continue to limit travel options on Leech and most surrounding lakes.

The ice was off Leech Lake by April 2 last year, the earliest it had ever been ice-free. The average ice-out date for Leech is April 28, and Shriver thinks it might be a bit later this spring.

“There just isn’t anyone fishing and I can’t hardly blame them – it’s ugly out there. We have water over the knees in spots,” Shriver said. “As for the ice going out, it’s too early to tell. All I know is that we still have a lot of it.”

Around Park Rapids, anglers have started driving trucks with four-wheel drive on a few lakes. But Kevin Lempola, of Delaney’s Sporting Goods, says most people are walking out and that current lake conditions just aren’t that appealing to most fishermen.

The Park Rapids area will host this year’s Governor’s Fishing Opener, so there’s some concern that the ice might not be gone by opening day. Although record-early ice-out dates were recorded throughout the area last spring, an average ice-out typically occurs between April 24 and 28 near Park Rapids, and Lempola believes that could still happen this year.

“This is better from a fishing standpoint once the season starts; we had guys wanting leeches by this time in 2012. It was too early,” he said. “This is a normal year, and I think we’ll be pretty close to normal ice-out this spring.”

In central Minnesota, an angler could drive a truck on many lakes early this week, and ATVs were an option on most, due to snow depths that receded greatly during the past week. Some access points had deteriorated, but ice fishing was still an option.

Despite the favorable lake conditions, Kurt Segner, of Little Jim’s Sport Shop in Annandale, pointed out that ice fishing doesn’t seem to be that attractive for a lot of people any longer. Those that have been fishing are telling Segner they’re surprised they aren’t seeing more people on the lakes.

“I think everyone hears about the snow up north and thinks we have the same type of situation here,” he said. “That’s not the case. You can go just about anywhere on the lakes and the weather has been nice, but fishing pressure continues to be limited.”

In southern Minnesota, ice conditions took a hit during last week’s rain and warmth, according to Justin Sommer, of Sommer’s Outdoors in Fairmont. Average ice-out happens around April 1 in the region, and that shouldn’t be too far off schedule.

Sommer pointed out that there’s almost no snow left on the ground, and with 60-degree temperatures forecasted for later this week in Fairmont, the ice that remains could be gone by the weekend.

“I don’t think you can get on lakes down here unless you have a really long plank,” he said Tuesday morning. “The ice that’s still on the lakes is floating so it won’t be long before it’s gone.”

Some other spring-related fishing items:

The Rainy River was open about two miles west of Frontier on Tuesday morning, and anglers were sliding small boats across shoreline ice and fishing the river.

Some boat launches were plowed open, although the Birchdale access had not been early this week. Water clarity was good, the river was fishable, and early reports indicated a pretty consistent walleye bite.

On the Mississippi River near Red Wing, water levels rose a bit with last week’s rain. It was low, so the added flow seems to have helped the bite and there have been more reports of bigger female walleyes biting.

Josh Doctor, of Four Seasons Sports in Red Wing, said there was still ice on Lake Pepin, but the bite had been best with jigs worked vertically or pitched near the dam and High Bridge areas during the evening hours.

Finally, the Minnesota/South Dakota border water walleye opener is Saturday, April 20 on Big Stone Lake, Lake Traverse, and Hendricks Lake. The ice was gone by March 18 last year, which was a record, and usually goes out around April 10.

Artie Arndt, of Artie’s Bait in Ortonville, said that on Tuesday morning anglers were driving on Big Stone Lake with trucks, but the boat ramps were getting sloppy and beat up with the run-off.

“It’s going to be close, and we need some warm weather, but the ice can go in a hurry out here this time of year,” he said referring to the possibility of having an ice-free border opener.

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