In Minnesota, ice fishing gets a kickstart
Isle, Minn. — What a difference a week makes. It was pretty difficult to find any ice statewide early last week, but that’s no longer the case.
The ice-fishing season has begun in earnest in many areas, and by this weekend, you might even see some ATVs and snowmobiles being used without hesitation on some lakes in the northern part of the state.
Just how fast did the ice take hold? Let Steve Johnson, of Johnson’s Portside on Lake Mille Lacs, explain what happened there.
“Three days before we locked up, people were out in boats catching walleyes,” he said Tuesday morning. “Now we have 6 inches of ice in the bays and the entire lake is covered.”
That was really the situation in most areas as the first blast of Arctic air arrived last week. With no signs of it leaving, ice conditions have only continued to improve.
Johnson expects to see ATV traffic in most bays by this weekend and maybe on some parts of the main lake as well. If a major snow event doesn’t hit the area (there was a hint of that predicted for this weekend), he expects the ice-fishing season to shift into high gear immediately.
In the Park Rapids area, ice reports indicate an average of 4 inches on most small lakes, with some uncertain ice depths on the bigger bodies of water. But anglers are fishing, and that didn’t seem likely about 10 days ago, according to Kevin Lempola, of Delaney’s Sporting Goods.
“We really went from no ice to running four-wheelers on some lakes in just more than a week,” Lempola said. “We’re off and running, and I expect a busy weekend.”
Lempola said he still urges everyone to use caution and check the ice as they go, especially on the big lakes. But he added that anglers were reporting 4 to 7 inches of ice on the lakes being fished early this week.
Brian Ney, of Adrian’s Resort on Lake of the Woods, was checking ice conditions when reached by phone on Tuesday morning. He was pleasantly surprised with what he discovered and just how much ice had formed since the weekend.
“Everything I found in Four Mile Bay was 8 inches thick and the lake had 5 to 8 inches,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone fishing in front of Pine Island, but I’m going to mark a trail this afternoon and we’ll let snowmobiles and wheelers out on Wednesday.”
Even in central and southern Minnesota, enough ice had formed on certain lakes to allow anglers to start walking out. Fishing options are more limited south of St. Cloud, with no ice or skim ice reported on many of the big, deep lakes. But many small lakes and bays held 3 to 5 inches of ice.
Kurt Segner, of Little Jim’s Sports in Annandale, said a handful of anglers were walking on those traditional, first-ice spots that capped earliest. He also pointed out that some spots on the big lakes still had open spots Monday night.
He’s also concerned about the aforementioned forecast that calls for snow late this week. With some snow already on top of the ice, any additional accumulation could cause issues and slow down the ice-making process.
“We definitely don’t need anymore snow on the ice, so I hope it doesn’t come this weekend,” Segner said. “We have up to 5 inches of ice on some lakes, and people are starting to go. We just need to keep the snow off of it for a few more days.”
Ice depths really vary in the Twin Cities metro area. Lake Minnetonka, for example, still had pockets of open water, while the small lakes and bays were ice-capped and some anglers are walking on them in certain areas, according to Bob Sonenstahl, of Wayzata Bait.
You can go as far south as Fairmont and find 4 to 5 inches of ice on most lakes, with up to 7 inches taking hold on some smaller bodies of water.
Justin Sommer, of Sommer Outdoors, also was out checking ice conditions for his customers on Tuesday morning. He said there was 3 inches of snow on top of the ice in the Fairmont area, but ice depths seemed to be improving.