Anxious anglers still waiting on ice to cooperate across much of Minnesota

Baudette, Minn. — Minnesotans longing to be on the ice with rod and reel in hand haven’t received, thus far, the cooperation of the weather as they’d hoped. As of earlier this week, it was primarily the far-northern parts of the state that had ice with some semblance of consistency.

In much of the southern half – at least – lakes had been subjected to not only warmer weather (until recently), but also strong winds, which never have been a friend to ice development.

Things were moving along nicely on Lake of the Woods, however.

“It’s been really good,” Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism said Tuesday of the recent fish bite there. The ice, for the most part, was to a point where resorters were moving forward with winter plans. Many of the “day houses” had been moved onto Lake of the Woods ice, he said.

“Every resort I know has them out or is moving them out,” Henry said. “It’s been below zero. It’s making good ice.”

Most of those fish houses aren’t far onto the border lake’s ice, which, Henry said, varied as of earlier this week from 8 to 14 inches thick. The houses currently are being set up over 18 to 24 feet of water. As the winter fishing season progresses, they’ll be placed farther onto the lake as walleyes and perch move out from shore.

While Upper Red Lake was a viable ice-fishing option as well (and at least one Upper Red resort planned to open up its road to trucks this weekend), there wasn’t much in the way of a sure thing in the Alexandria area. Dick Gustafson, of Christopherson’s Bait and Tackle, called ice conditions “fair.” He said it’s a year when even greater caution must be exercised on the ice, because of its unusual development.

While there might be up to 7 inches of ice in protected bays of some smaller lakes, as of Tuesday some of the bigger lakes in the area had wide open spots, according to Gustafson. The reason, he said, was due in part to gusty winds that have not only kept some areas open, but also have turned decent ice into bad.

“No matter what, you gotta be careful where you’re going,” he said. “Be patient. Don’t be stupid. Don’t be foolish.”

South of Alexandria, in the Willmar area, Brad Foshaug, of Brad’s 71 Bait and Sports, said ice on area lakes is averaging about 4 inches. However, he adds, what that really means is there are a lot of areas that have open water, or ice not fishable.

“It’s just really spotty,” Foshaug said Tuesday. “There’s some walkable, fishable ice, but there’s not a lot of it.”

Wind has been negatively influential in the development of ice around Willmar. Certain smaller lakes have 2 to 5 inches of ice in bays that were protected from the wind, Foshaug said. In other places, strong wind battered ice that was in place, hurting quality.

These days, Foshaug adds, it often takes several inches of ice to get anglers onto it, as more anglers utilize wheelhouses that require greater thickness.

Anglers were beginning to make their way onto Lake Mille Lacs last week, as reported by the folks at Lundeen’s Tackle Castle: “We’re finally starting to see some clusters of people around the south end of Mille Lacs. With the ice thickness ranging from 5-10 inches in Cove, Wahkon, and Isle, it’s starting to look like game-on! Mostly northerns so far, with a few walleye and a handful of perch and even the rogue crappie.”

While ice continues to develop on Lake Winnibigoshish, most resorts aren’t going at top speed until January arrives, according to Rick Leonhardt, of High Banks Resort.

“We always … hold off until after Jan. 1,” Leonhardt said, adding that for whatever reason, ice on Mille Lacs, a lake to the south of Winnie, often has been ice earlier.

Leonhardt said he likes to see 13 to 14 inches of ice before the multitude of houses are pulled onto Winnie. By then, the perch bite should be going strong. “We’re looking at good perch fishing this year,” he said.

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