Cold snap could bring some ‘fishable’ ice

Bemidji, Minn. — If not for recent winds … there’s a good chance some fortunate Minnesotans could be ice fishing next week. If it gets as cold as expected, for as long as expected, some still might be experiencing “first ice.”

A brief and breezy warmup earlier this week broke up much of the skim ice that had formed in northern Minnesota. But those longing for hard-water fishing following the state’s firearms deer-hunting season were looking ahead to a forecast that featured – for the Bemidji area, anyway – no daytime highs above the freezing mark for at least a week.

Dylan Badger, a fishing department worker at Gander Mountain in Bemidji, said several small lakes in that area had thin ice. Larger lakes had some shoreline ice.

And if it weren’t for stiff winds much of this week, ice-making would’ve progressed further.

“It’s been a little windy,” Badger said. “That’s definitely not helping.”

But, he added, “Next week’s supposed to be pretty chilly. That should start freezing things up.”

Though he doesn’t necessarily recommend doing so, Todd Mortenson, of Mort’s Dock near Upper Red Lake, said there were some people venturing onto the ice this week.

While there appeared to be a legitimate shot at anglers fishing at least the near-shore areas of Upper Red by this weekend, a strong wind on Tuesday served as a reminder that there are dangers on the ice aside from just breaking through it.

Mortenson said a strong southeast wind Tuesday morning opened cracks in the already-formed ice along shore.

“It will now depend on cold and less wind to heal things up,” he said in an email. “This time of year, even walking or using an ATV, anglers need to be aware that winds may open things up quickly and leave them stranded, waiting on Fire and Rescue with a hovercraft. Bemidji is the closest craft to Upper Red Lake.”

Mortenson said even if the ice firms up soon, and the wind subsides, early ice walleye fishing sometimes can be difficult when wind has churned the water and created poor visibility.

Prior to the Tuesday wind, he said ice was setting up nicely on the near shores of Upper Red, with decent ice at least out to the depths that early ice fishermen like to reach – 8 to 9 feet of water.

“We’re just about set,” he said.

In other areas of northern Minnesota, the story was much the same earlier this week: skim ice on small waters, shore ice on bigger ones, and wind that wouldn’t leave the ice alone.

“It’s ready,” Kevin Lempola, of Delaney’s bait shop in Park Rapids, said of ice formation. “We just need the temperature (to drop) and the wind to stop blowing.”

In the Detroit Lakes area, John Store, of Quality Bait, said he didn’t expect wind to ruin ice on all the lakes. Some smaller ones looked liked they’ll retain most of what they’d made, and probably make a bunch more in coming days.

He expected by Thanksgiving anglers might be sliding onto early ice, and dropping by his shop for bait and tackle.

Badger, of the Gander store in Bemidji, said ice-angling gear purchase in earnest had yet to begin.

“Just a few augers, locators, and fish houses so far,” he said earlier this week.

The seven-day forecast for the Bemidji area called for temperatures generally in the low 20s, along with a predicted Saturday night low of 3 degrees.

On Tuesday, the St. Cloud Times reported an ice angler from Sartell who broke through the ice of Little Rock Lake on Nov. 15 and was rescued, had come out of a coma on Monday.
Joshua Johnson, 30, the Times reported, remained in a hospital in critical condition.

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