Ice-building, ice fishing on verge of turning in Upper Midwest

A nice Devils Lake walleye caught in January 2016. Like last year on the lake — and across the Upper Midwest — it appears ice-fishing could again take a turn for the better in January. (Photo by Brian Peterson)

Christmas Day wasn’t especially kind to ice anglers in the Upper Midwest (and beyond). Snowstorms and wintery weather kept most anglers off the lakes Christmas Day, and in the days since. And even now, the result has been deep, tough-to-navigate snow on fisheries and sketchy ice conditions.

Patches of wintery weather are in the forecast for this second holiday weekend, too. And according to those forecasts, good ice-building weather won’t start until after New Year’s Day. But there are signs that, in spite of mostly disappointing ice-fishing weather and conditions throughout this holiday season, a shift is in the works.

On North Dakota’s Devils Lake, one guide yesterday (Thursday, Dec. 29) reported that he and 20 clients had about 400 perch to show for their day on the ice (daily limit is 20 perch per angler on the lake). And, in spite of all that Christmas Day snow (Devils Lake reportedly got well over a foot), ice thickness on Devils Lake is decent — reportedly 10 to 18 inches on the main lake.

Across most of Minnesota, which didn’t get nearly the snow that hit its neighbor to the west, ice conditions are even more sketchy — even anglers on Lake of the Woods are yet to get up to speed for this hard-water season; recent reports out of Long Point near Williams, Minn., were of around a foot of ice, and snowmobile and all-terrain-vehicle traffic only.

High temperatures will be in the mid- to high teens over the holiday weekend in the Williams area, and the low temperature will only be around plus-5 degrees on Monday. But a cold snap across the Upper Midwest hits Tuesday, when the low will be minus-12 at Williams, followed by double-digit below-zero lows for at least a week. Heck, the high temps during that stretch won’t even reach zero. Good news for ice-building fans.

In southeastern Minnesota, temps will be around freezing for the kickoff of the winter trout fishing season on Sunday, Jan. 1. That’s good as this winter stream season is an open-water alternative; fed by groundwater, many of the streams here remain relatively ice-free throughout the winter. But next week’s deep freeze will also be felt in southeastern Minnesota, although not quite as dramatically, with high temperatures in double digits for much of next week.

Like most natural resources agencies in the Upper Midwest, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources warned of sketchy ice these days. But according to numerous Tweets by the agency, fishing has been solid in recent days:

  • “Catch bluegills and crappie at Lake Ahquabi in large area of habitat sunk out from west shoreline.”
  • “Find bluegills in standing trees mid-lake and edge of deepest water in NE Beaver Lake.”
  • “Decent walleye being caught at Lost Island Lake.”
  • “Anglers catching walleye behind Parks Marina at East Okoboji Lake.”
  • “Walleye anglers consistently reaching their limits at Big Spirit Lake.”
  • “Black crappie are suspended at Storm Lake; use jig tipped with wax worm or a minnow.”
  • “Catch 8- to 9-inch bluegills at Arrowhead Lake with wax worm on small jig fished in about 20 feet of water.”

Another IDNR Tweet offers information on a kids’ ice fishing clinic scheduled Saturday, Dec. 31 from 9-11:30 a.m. at the backwater area of Pinicon Ridge Park in Central City, another provides information on the new IDNR mobile-friendly fishing atlas, and yet another tells the story of the IDNR’s expanding urban trout program — stocking begins again Jan. 4.

‘Tis the season.

Categories: Ice Fishing

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