Hard water could challenge opener

Most area lakes still covered in ice

M. Helmberger
A Lake Vermilion dock hangs ready to be dropped once ice clears. The late spring has many fearing next weekend's fishing opener could be spoiled by hard water.
Tom Klein

REGIONAL - Jay Schelde isn’t expecting the ice to disappear from Lake Vermilion by the May 11 fishing opener.

“I would be very surprised if the ice is out on Big Bay and even Pike Bay by the opener,” said Schelde, who owns Pike Bay Lodge and is president of the Lake Vermilion Resort Association. “This is also an early opener because it falls on May 11, so it’s kind of a perfect storm.”

Schelde said at last check, there were still 28 inches of ice on the lake. Although there’s a remote chance that portions of the lake could be ice-free by opener, Schelde said he tends to err on the side of caution.

Rock Gillson, who will be starting his 38th season at his Life of Riley resort, shares Schedle’s assessment.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Gillson, who said he measured between 24 and 26 inches of ice on Norwegian Bay over the weekend. “This could be the latest ice-out on record.”

Winter’s delayed exit has also complicated the task of getting the resort ready for the season. “There’s still frost in the ground and snow drifts around some of the cabins,” he said. “Everything is behind schedule.”

Opener isn’t typically one of the busiest weekends for the resort, Gillson said. But he remains hopeful he’ll be able to accommodate those who may show up at the resort for the fishing opener weekend.

Vermilion is one the 10 largest and most popular walleye lakes in Minnesota. The combined lakes account for nearly one-third of the state’s entire walleye harvest.

Rainy and Kabetogama are also among the top 10 lakes and aren’t expected to be ice-free by opener.

“We’re entering uncharted territory,” said Kevin Peterson, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR office in International Falls, which manages Kabetogama and Rainy.

Peterson said he’s heard reports that the ice is still 30 inches thick on Rainy and said he would not be surprised if several late ice-out records are shattered this season.

Ironically, last season the lakes were open early due to unseasonably warm weather.

“It’s a 180-degree shift from last year,” said Peterson. “It’s a good reminder that we live in Minnesota where the weather is pretty variable.”

Jerry Pohlman, of Nelson’s Resort, said Crane Lake might be the exception to the rule. Although the lake may not be entirely ice-free by opener, there could be enough open water for anglers to fish.

“Crane Lake gets a lot of current and if we get a lot of rain in the next two weeks, who knows?” he said. Pohlman said the Echo River and Vermilion River — two popular fishing spots — are already flowing.

Vanessa Ingebretsen, of Aspen Resort, doesn’t expect Pelican Lake to be ice-free by opener and said the resort would normally be ready to open by now instead of still dealing with snowdrifts.

Last March, she noted, t they were already raking leaves and the crappies were biting by April.

Ingebretsen said a friend joked that the resort should drill some holes in the ice in front of the resort and hold a casting contest.

The late ice-out has also encouraged a few others to make history. Pohlman said people were out ice fishing on Crane Lake over the weekend and there’s a rumor that a group plans to go ice fishing on May 1 if the ice holds.

Indeed, the ice might be thick enough on some waters that a few anglers may venture out onto the ice on opener to fish.

Peterson advised caution for those who do. Drain holes and current can weaken ice and, depending on the weather, some ice sections may not be as solid as they seem.

“For those that do try to ice fish on opener, I recommend they wear a life jacket,” he said.


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