Chatter building: Ice-out before May 11 walleye-fishing opener?

Bemidji, Minn. — When Ron Bostic, owner of Taber’s Bait in Bemidji, walked into a local watering hole earlier this week for a burger basket, the chatter among patrons was primarily focused on the upcoming fishing opener.

With less than a month left before opening day, it would seem understandable that the clientele of a northern Minnesota bar and restaurant would discuss the start of another walleye season.

But most years about this time, the conversation usually revolves around patterns and techniques, water temperatures, and specific lakes and where walleyes will be set up within them. That’s not the case this week.

Fishing opener talk around Bemidji and most other places in the northern half of the state currently mainly is focusing on whether open water will be an option on May 11.

“I’d bet my left kidney we won’t have open water on the opener and the talk around here is that people are getting worried about it,” Bostic said as he assessed current ice conditions on Tuesday morning. “Right now we have 34 inches of solid ice on Lake Bemidji and seven to 18 inches of snow on top of it – we haven’t even hit the late ice fishing period, yet.”

With the shorelines intact and measurable snow on the ground, Bostic says it still looks and feels like winter around Bemidji. It hasn’t been cold enough to cause the ice to start deteriorating and continues to dip below the freezing point every night.

He believes weather patterns are going to have to make a drastic change soon. Warmer temperatures and extended rains are needed or the fishing opener might involve augers and short rods in a few weeks.

“Unless we get a string of 70-degree days and heavy rains I can’t see us fishing open water,” he added. “I think people could be ice fishing on the opener.”

Cold S.D. border opener

That’s exactly what is going to take place on Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse this Saturday for the Minnesota/South Dakota border walleye opener. The latest ice-out ever recorded on Big Stone is April 26 and that record could be in jeopardy.

Norm Haukos is the DNR fisheries manager in Ortonville and he said there’s absolutely no way anglers will be able to do anything other than ice fish on the aforementioned lakes this weekend and in the near future.

In addition to missing out on opening day, Haukos pointed out that there’s a 125-boat walleye tournament scheduled for Big Stone on April 27. It also might not be held due to the fact that the weather isn’t doing much at this point to speed up the ice-out process.

“I don’t know if people will, but they could probably walk out and ice fish for walleyes this weekend,” Haukos said. “The walleye fishing will be good on Big Stone and Traverse once we can get at them and both lakes will be as good as any in the state on the inland opener.”

South of St. Cloud, the channels, shorelines and dock areas have started to open up. But most main-lake ice remains thick and showing few signs of a spring thaw, according to Bob Sonenstahl of Wayzata Bait and Tackle.

Sonenstahl says the main portion of Lake Minnetonka still has 24 inches of ice and up to eight inches of snow on top of it in places. With no warm weather again this week to provide melting to occur, there hasn’t been enough run-off to accelerate the process.

“The best thing right now would be a couple days of warm rain, and I don’t see that in that forecast,” he said. “We’re looking at May 1 for the ice to be off and that’s only if the weather changes.”

The ice has gone out in some parts of southern Minnesota. The lakes around Fairmont and Mankato are now wide open and limited open water fishing has started. But the consistently cool weather has prevented most anglers from taking advantage of the ice-free conditions.

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