State of ice: Tale of two halves

Chisago City, Minn. — While ice conditions continue to improve across northern Minnesota, providing plenty of fishing opportunities, ice depths continue to lag well behind schedule in other parts of the state. Although the calendar is flipping to January, anglers still aren’t finding much ice in the southern half of Minnesota. In some cases, open water remains quite prominent on some lakes, with walkable ice found on others.

Around the Chisago Lakes area, for example, many small lakes and bays have had enough ice to walk on for about two weeks, but up until just recently, it hasn’t gotten much thicker.

“We’re finally starting to make ice, about a half to three-quarter inches each day, and we’re fishing, but I’d still advise foot travel,” said Brett Walter, of Frankie’s Live Bait and Marine in Chisago City. “I know guys are chomping at the bit and I’ve heard about a few four-wheelers being used, but those guys are crazy.”

Near Faribault, many lakes had 4 inches of ice last weekend, so walking out was an option. However, this area received about 8 inches of snow on Monday and that “screwed everything up,” according to Andy Nagel, owner of Nagel’s Live Bait. He was still assessing the damage the unwanted weight caused on the lakes in his area early this week.

“It’s not going to be good, and I’m telling people to be really careful out there right now,” he said. “This was a setback after what’s already been a poor start to the season.”

Generally, ice conditions improve from St. Cloud to points north. While there are some ice-fishing opportunities in the Twin Cities area, it depends on how much snow each area received. There was a distinct line with Monday’s weather event that dropped up to 10 inches of snow in parts of the metro, but not a flake around St. Cloud and areas to the north and west. It’s in these regions where anglers are finding better ice conditions.

Kevin Lempola, of Delaney’s Sporting Goods in Park Rapids, reported big lakes such as Fish Hook and Long now have walkable ice. The small lakes that capped earlier are starting to see anglers utilizing ATVs and snowmobiles on them. “We’re into the start of it now, but it’s been a slow start,” he said.

Here’s a look at how the ice on some big lakes is developing.

Lake Mille Lacs: The bays have 6 to 8 inches of ice, and some parts of the main lake are now accessible, just not very far out.

Lake of the Woods: Ice fishing is in full swing. Trails have been marked for ATVs and snowmobiles, and resorts have started to put in place rental fish houses.

Lake Winnibigoshish: Reports are of 8 to 10 inches of ice near shore and 8 inches farther out.

Leech Lake: Marginal ice remains in Walker Bay, with some thicker ice close to shore. Anglers are walking on certain parts of the lake and in smaller bays.

Rainy Lake: The entire lake is now ice-covered, and up to 7 inches of ice is being reported in some bays and shoreline areas.

Upper Red Lake: Average ice depth is 8 to 10 inches. Snowmobiles and ATVs are being used.

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