Icy start for border opener on Big Stone

Ortonville, Minn. — Craig Miska had to do his job last Saturday as he checked anglers fishing on Big Stone Lake during the border waters fishing opener.

But that didn’t mean the conservation officer didn’t have a little fun.

He asked anglers stationed on 30 or more inches of ice if he could check to make sure they had items like life jackets and fire extinguishers – all necessary of boat fishermen, but not ice anglers.

“A couple fellas had that deer-in-the-headlights look,” Miska said. “… We’ve got to make light of it.”

While it’s not unprecedented to have ice for the border waters opener, neither is it common. Most of the people Miska checked had never ice fished on the opener, and a lot of them said they just wanted to be able to say they’d done it.

The border opener now come and gone, the question is whether lakes will be clear of ice on Saturday, May 11 – the statewide fishing opener.

As of earlier this week, about the only place one might find open-water lakes was in the southern one-third of the state, places south of the metro.

Those lakes, too, were running behind in terms of ice-out, but, optimistic anglers would add, at least they were open.

Madison Lake, just down the road from Mankato, for example, officially was declared ice-free last Sunday, April 21. The average ice-out date was April 6, and no late ice-out records were set: In 1929, ice-out on Madison was April 30.

But what of other lakes, those northern waters anglers wish to fish come the opener? With some springlike weather, and perhaps some ice-deteriorating rain, more lakes will open in the next couple weeks. But there are some who are mostly certain that fishing-opener anglers might have to make alternate plans.

As of earlier this week, Mille Lacs had 30 inches of fairly solid ice, according to Kurt King, of Tutt’s Bait and Tackle in Garrison.

“Unless things change drastically, like monsoon rains and 50-mile-per-hour winds to go along with it, there will be ice for the opener,” King said Tuesday. And, he guesses, it won’t be the kind of ice that’s safe for anglers wishing to walk out and pop a hole to celebrate the walleye-fishing opener.

But that could be the case north of Mille Lacs, King said. Upper Red Lake, quite possibly, could support ice anglers during the fishing opener.

No matter where you go, if the only option is ice fishing, officials advise anglers to use caution and check in with bait shop operators and others who are more familiar with ice conditions.

Over in the Duluth area, John Chalstrom, of Chalstrom’s Bait, said earlier this week perch and crappie anglers were still making their way onto the ice, but they’d discovered a layer of water beneath the snow, water Chalstrom said could be eating into and weakening the ice. Once it’s in bad shape, it could break up in a hurry. And that, Chalstrom said, would improve spirits in the area.

“After this (period of snow and ice-covered lakes) is over, with a couple decent spring days … attitudes will improve,” he said.

Ice-out dates

It’s been quite the turnabout from a year ago, when many lakes in northern Minnesota recorded their earliest ice-out dates. This year, those same lakes could set records for the other extreme.

Nearly all lakes in the northern half of the state still have from 2 to 3 feet or more of ice that remained as of earlier this week. Detroit Lake’s average ice-out is April 15; the latest ice-out was recorded April 27, 1996. For Winnibigoshish, the average ice-out date is April 24; the latest recorded was May 10 in 1966.

The Minnesota Climatology Working Group has a website with ice-out listings.

Fishing closures

The DNR has listed a number of waters that are closed to protect spawning concentrations of walleyes and other fish. The list can be found via www.outdoornews.com/links

Some waters are set to open the day before the season begins, while others will be closed through the opener. Others, particularly in the Bemidji area, are closed until further notice. That includes the Tamarac River, which is a tributary of Red Lake.

DNR staffers will electrofish the Tamarac River during the week before the opener to judge the status of the walleye spawn. While officials would prefer it to be open for the opener, “it’s certainly a high probability this year” that it will be closed, said Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Bemidji.

Governor’s opener a go

Organizers of the 2013 Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener, to be held in the Park Rapids area, sent out a reminder that the event will go on, despite what ice conditions are.

Gov. Mark Dayton is set to hit Fish Hook Lake, but that could change if there’s still ice on it.

The press release from Explore Minnesota Tourism quotes local guide and Governor’s Fishing Opener committee member Jason Durham as saying, “Fish Hook River is currently open and many of the inlets and outlets on the Fish Hook Chain (are) starting to open, despite recent weather conditions – it’s not whether we fish, it’s where we fish!”

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