Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Minnesota anglers finding January ice iffy

Ice anglers across most of Minnesota thus far haven’t found a need for auger extensions this winter. (Photo by Tim Spielman)

Victoria, Minn. — If you’re able to drive your truck onto good lake ice, consider yourself lucky. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for ice anglers to do so during a winter that’s so far been messed up, to say the least.

Consider earlier this week, that Jeff Byrne, of Cabin Fever Sports in Victoria, amid pouring rain, helped a friend remove a fishing shack from a local lake.

“Between Christmas and New Year’s, it was great,” Byrne said of ice access. “Then we got that last big snowfall.”

That snow event arrived earlier this month and provided ice insulation that further slowed ice-making.

In some places, it fell on an already thick layer of white insulation on state lakes.

The effect of deep snow on lake ice is being felt by anglers across large swaths of the state.

An official for the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza, which draws some 10,000 ice anglers to the Brainerd area each year, says the Jan. 28 event is still a go. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Tad Johnson, chair of the group that assembles the state’s biggest ice-fishing event.

However, another long-running ice-fishing contest – the Maple Lake Ice Fishing Derby in Wright County – won’t be held this year.

Organizers of the derby, which was scheduled for Feb. 4, cited poor ice and deep snow as reasons they decided to cancel it last week.

Greg Thomes, who’s headed up the planning effort for the derby for more than a decade – it’s been around since 1975 – said it was appropriate to pull the plug now, rather than incur more expenses.

The derby, hosted by the Maple Lake Property Owners Association, already had pumped some $25,000 into the event, Thomes said, most of that devoted to prizes and publicizing the contest.

So, instead of continuing preparation for this year’s contest, volunteers are “gearing up for 2024,” Thomes said.

Proceeds from most ice-fishing contests are for local causes, and the Maple Lake derby is no different, Thomes said.

“Our proceeds go back into Maple Lake and water-quality efforts,” he said. “We have almost all the invasives (aquatic invasive species) you can have out there.”

Thomes said that a recent check revealed only about 7 inches of solid ice on the lake. On top of that was about 4 inches of poor ice. And atop the ice layers lay about 14 inches of snow. Further, a 15-day forecast showed weather not conducive to rapid ice-making.

Not all is lost, Thomes said. While a derby is out, a wheelhouse raffle is still in play Tickets will be sold through March 11, and the drawing will coincide with a local St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Visit for information.

The state’s two “biggie” ice-fishing events – the Brainerd Jaycees Extravaganza on Gull Lake’s Hole in the Day Bay, and Ducks Unlimited’s Fishing for Ducks on Lake Mille Lacs – are expected to go on.

Extravaganza chair Johnson said last week that the Gull Lake ice is “on track,” and that there currently isn’t deep snow in the bay to hinder further ice development.

Also, he said, contest ice anglers are shuttled to the contest area and they walk to the location on the ice – about 100 yards. Contest organizers work with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department to monitor ice thickness and ability to accommodate contest traffic.

“We drill a ton of holes everywhere (to check ice thickness),” Johnson said.

Ducks Unlimited’s Greg Erickson, who’s long been associated with the Fishing for Ducks contest, said last week that he and other organizers believe there will be stout ice in Garrison Bay in time for the Feb. 18 contest.

Ice angling in general

As for every-day ice anglers across Minnesota, conditions vary greatly.

In the Brainerd area, lake ice, in most cases, “isn’t bad,” according to Sherree Wicktor, of S&W Bait in nearby Nisswa. But, Wicktor cautions, anglers need to continue to monitor ice conditions as they go.

“You really have to check it yourself,” she said. “In general, we have 9 to 15 inches of good ice.”

She proceeded to relay the story of a local angler who drove truck and dual-axle wheelhouse to the middle of a bay because a road had been plowed. The angler proceeded to cut holes in what turned out to be just 9 inches of ice.

Still, the ice-tackle business has been pretty good, Wicktor said.

“The last two weekends were unbelievably busy. It’s still hard to get some tackle; the supply is still not there.”

Ice fishing’s been a bit tougher in at least some of the Twin Cities metro area. Byrne, of Cabin Fever Sports, said three lakes in the southwest metro have decent access. The rest, he said, are “messed up” due to limited ice and deep snow.

And in the Blackduck area of northern Minnesota, ice anglers continue to use early-season methods to get to fishing spots on local lakes: snowmobiles, ATVs, and by hoofing it.

“The snow is just deep enough with the drifts that it’s hard to drive vehicles,” said Carl Adams, of Timberline Sports and Tackle in Blackduck.

That’s meant fewer wheelhouses on local lakes, Adams said.

However, he’s seen plenty of the fishing shelters this year as anglers pass through Blackduck en route to destinations such as Upper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.

A few DNR conservation officers chimed in this week regarding current ice conditions:

• CO Trent Anderson, of St. Cloud, reported that anglers are cautioned about driving vehicles on area ice as slush and ice thickness varies.

• CO Brent Grewe, of Minnetonka, reported that many lakes still have lots of deep, heavy slush, and people should use caution when heading out on them.

• CO Matt Loftness, of Marshall, reported that temperatures in the 30s for most of the weekend started to cause flooding problems around fish houses.

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