Prior Lake, Minn. — Early winter weather has been unkind to ice anglers, pheasant hunters, trappers, and, likely, many other users of the outdoors.
Despite a long-term weather forecast, beginning Tuesday, that predicted high temperatures to hover in the 20s and 30s for several days across most of the state, early winter has been punctuated by storms of heavy, wet snow and, more recently, snow with brutal sub-zero temperatures and megahigh winds.
A pre-Christmas blizzard slammed southern Minnesota, closing roads and limiting travel.
“Local law enforcement are reporting drifts as long and as tall as semi-trucks …,” the city of Winthrop posted via social media.
Meanwhile, along the snow-saturated North Shore just before Christmas, the National
Weather Service documented a 74-mph gust of wind in Grand Marais.
Not exactly weather conditions conducive to robust outdoor activity – or a decent fish bite.
“Throughout the cold spell, the bite for (all fish) was really, really tough,”
Aidan Hammill, manager of Prior Lake Bait & Tackle in the south
metro, said Tuesday morning. “It’s starting to fire up on all area lakes
now. Some guys are venturing out in their portables and getting active.
Yesterday was one of the busiest days of the year here. I’m expecting
the bite to turn on as temperatures continue to warm up.”
Generally speaking, Hammill said, the region’s smaller lakes have roughly 10
inches of ice, while larger bodies of water, including Prior Lake, have
between 7 and 10 inches.
“We got some of the heavier, wet snow, but things are starting to firm up,”
he said, adding that each lake is likely a little different and safety
must be observed.
“We’re seeing more traffic with snowmobiles on the lakes. It’s still too sketchy for driving vehicles, though.”
The Minnesota DNR was so concerned about a recent
storm of heavy, wet snow that it issued a news release late last week
warning ice anglers about ice conditions.
“Slush adds weight to the ice, and its effects can be unpredictable,”
according to the release, which said conditions in some areas were not
adequate to support ice shelters and vehicles. “There are many tools to
help you determine whether the ice is safe – augers, drills, spud bars,
and tape measures – but the calendar isn’t one of them,” said Col.
Rodmen Smith, director of the Minnesota DNR’s Enforcement Division.
While ice conditions are improving, the pheasant season is getting short. It
runs through Jan. 1. Minnesota DNR Southern Region director and avid
late-season pheasant hunter Scott Roemhildt said he plans to hunt as
much as he can. When the Minnesota season is over, he’ll likely take a
trip to South Dakota and/or Kansas, which have longer seasons.
“Hunting pheasants in December is my absolute favorite time,” Roemhildt said.
“Right now, it’s kind of good and bad for hunters. So far this winter
we’ve had five storms of plowable snow in the Mankato area. Primary
cover like grasslands is filled in. Secondary cover like cattail sloughs
The upshot, Roemhildt said, is that birds are concentrated in shelterbelts and are easier to find.
“They’re been pushed into willow thickets and cedar groves,” he said. “The
biggest problem is getting to them. You’re going to have to cover a lot
of open ground before you do … and they’ll be able to see and hear you.
And, as you might suspect, the birds are really spooky this time of year
already. No one said it would be easy.”
Roemhildt said he likes to run two hunters and a dog through a shelterbelt, with
other hunters “posting” along fence lines or other areas with cover
“The good news is that you’re probably going to see a lot of birds,” he said.
Another bit of good news:
Roemhildt said high winds have opened up some of the region’s crop fields, which should provide food for wildlife.
“That will help pheasants winter the winter,” he said.
Brian Fischer, of Courtland, is the president of the Minnesota Trappers
Association, a position he’s held since 2021. Fischer said most of the
trapping season throughout the state has been plagued by snowstorm after
snowstorm and, more recently, bitter cold.
As snow has accumulated, trappers have had an increasingly hard time moving around, let alone setting traps.
“Access has been extremely tough, in the south and especially in the north,”
said Fischer, who traps coyotes, especially throughout January, in the
“And then it got really, really cold on top of that.”
For many trappers, Fischer said, the nine-day fisher/pine marten season in
northern Minnesota, which ran through Dec. 25, was largely a bust.
“I believe the deep snow and cold on top of that likely really hurt participation,” he said.
Dave “Greek” Wagner, 71, of Belle Plaine, is a lifelong hunter, angler, and
trapper. Wagner, along with two trapping friends, traveled to Ely for
the pine marten/fisher season. The trio found deep snow, sub-zero
temperatures, and difficult off-road and foot access. Still, Wagner
said, they managed to get one pine marten apiece.
“It was just hard to get around, period. The snow is real deep out there
and we got stuck once,” said Wagner, who is a certified trapping
instructor for the Minnesota Trappers Association.
In general, he said, deep snow and cold complicate trapping and make it
harder. “A lot of guys like to trap earlier in the season when
conditions are generally better, but your fur isn’t prime then,” he
Weather aside, Wagner said he plans to trap bobcats near Crosby in the next week or so. The season runs through Jan. 22.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
For information on Minnesota’s trapping seasons, check the DNR’s hunting and trapping regulations handbook, which is online at www.dnr.state.mn.us