Snowstorm stalls fast start to 2013 ice-fishing season

Grand Rapids, Minn. — Bait shop and resort owners, as well as hoards of ice fishermen across northern Minnesota, likely had their collective fingers crossed early this week.

With favorable weather providing an early start to the ice-fishing season, a round of measurable snow was expected to hit mid-week – enough in some parts of northern Minnesota to shut down fishing.

Most small lakes in the Grand Rapids area had five to seven inches of ice, according to Ben Kellin of Ben’s Bait and Tackle. Fish houses were popping up on many lakes, ATV use was a safe option, and anglers were out in numbers and catching fish.

Monday night brought the first round of snow to this region, about six inches. But the bigger concern was the heavy snow expected to hit Wednesday, which some forecasts predicted to be in the 12- to 16-inch range.

“We have to wait and see, but they’re saying more than a foot when it’s done. We’re praying that they’re wrong,” Kellin said Tuesday morning. “We have good ice and a lot of people fishing, so we’re hoping the lakes don’t turn into a sloppy mess.”

That already happened around Duluth, where about 14 inches of snow fell Monday. The area was expected to receive additional snow during the week, which means ice conditions that had been considered excellent, quickly weren’t suited for travel.

John Chalstrom, of Chalstrom’s Bait, said most lakes had eight inches of ice, ideal for fishing prior to the storm system, but it wasn’t thick enough to handle the volume of snow that hit the Duluth area.

“It’s disappointing because we had such a good start and so many people were fishing, but we got buried,” Chalstrom said. “No doubt there’s water under that snow now, and it will slow down the (fishing) masses.”

At Lake of the Woods, anglers found about eight inches of ice in Four Mile Bay and up to 81⁄2 inches along the south shore of the main lake. Fortunately, only a couple inches of snow fell during round one on Monday. The bigger issue is what drops during round two this week.

On Tuesday morning, Brian Ney of Adrian’s Resort said weather reports were calling for an additional 8 to 15 inches around Baudette. While he planned on placing some of his rental fish houses on Monday, he decided to wait until after the snowstorm moved through.

“The snow we’re supposed to get is expected to come with some wind, which is better than if it comes straight down and piles up,” he said. “Hopefully, the wind will blow it around enough that it’s manageable.”

Some of the state’s other traditional go-to spots for ice fishermen are not set up nearly as well. Any additional snow might delay ice-fishing options even more.

• Lake Mille Lacs: Some bays had 5 to 7 inches of ice and much of the main lake had three. The area received seven inches of wet, heavy snow Monday with more in the forecast this week.
• Leech Lake: The lake is covered with four to six inches of ice, but 8 to 10 inches of snow hit the area Monday.
• Upper Red Lake: Consistent ice depths of 8 to 10 inches were reported, and the 5 inches of snow that fell Monday had not caused issues.
• Lake Winnibigoshish: Six inches of ice was common with six inches of snow atop it after Monday.

While the snow mid-week could dictate fishing options this weekend in some areas to the north, it is expected a blast of cold air will follow. That could mean some ideal fishing options in the southern half of the state where snow should be minimal.

Justin Sommer, of Sommer Outdoors in Fairmont, says anglers are walking on four to five inches of ice in his area. There’s very little snow on the ground, not much in the forecast, and with more cold air on the way, ice conditions will continue to improve.

“We’re not expecting to get much snow, and we don’t want any at this point,” he said. “With the cold that’s coming, our lakes should be in great shape.”

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