Lingering cold and snow raising concern about timely ice-out on area lakes
REGIONAL—With snow continuing to pile up across the North Country this week, the odds for all open water in time
for the May 11 fishing opener are looking increasingly long.
With just over three weeks remaining until the walleye season gets underway, the North Country landscape is looking a lot more like early March than the latter half of April. The area remains locked in a persistent pattern of colder than average temperatures and frequent outbreaks of accumulating snow. So far in April, most reporting stations have picked up 20 inches of snow, or more, and most of it remains on the ground.
As of Monday, International Falls reported a snow depth of 21 inches, and that’s typical for most areas in northern St. Louis County right now. While lingering snow cover is hardly unusual in April in the North
Country, having so much so late is exceptional.
“This is the deepest snow this late into April that I can find in the records,” said State Climatologist Pete Boulay.
The lake ice depths are even greater. As of this weekend, most area lakes were still capped by anywhere from 28-36 inches of ice. Lost Lake, near Tower, on April 13, had 32 inches of ice, and at least two feet of it was clear and solid. About ten inches of hard-packed snow lies on top of most area lakes, as well, which is slowing the ice melt.
The frequent fresh snow is a major issue, according to Boulay. “The sun is strong this time of year, but each snowfall makes the lakes nice and white again and that reflects a lot of the sunlight.”
Back-to-back mid-April snowstorms in 2008, which dropped nearly 40 inches on the area, kept ice from melting that year as well. As a result, Lake Vermilion and some of the area’s other large lakes, still had partial
ice-cover for opener, which also fell on May 11 in 2008. While some anglers still turned out despite the ice and the four inches of snow that fell the day before opener that year, many out-of-area anglers chose other locations on what is traditionally a busy weekend on many area
lakes, and for area businesses.
“I hear resorts are already getting calls about it,” said Cliff Wagenbach, who guides anglers, mostly on Lake Vermilion. Wagenbach said he’s increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for open water any time soon. “We’re behind where we were in 2008,” he said. “Right
now, I don’t think [Vermilion’s] Big Bay will be open.
Maybe we’ll still be ice fishing.”
Boulay cautioned that weather can turn quickly, and if the weather warms up later this month, the ice and snow could still disappear in time.
But Wagenbach noted that the extended forecast offers no glimpse of anything approaching seasonal averages. The average high for this date is in the low-to-mid 50s, with an average low in the low-to-mid
20s. Instead, high temperatures have been running in the mid-to-upper 30s, with lows dipping down into the teens and even the single digits.
If ice clears, Pike Bay will be open
One bit of good news is that even with the late expected ice-out, Vermilion’s Pike Bay should be open for fishing on schedule. The shallow bay is one of the most popular opener locations in the region, and it typically loses its ice cover several days in advance of the rest of the lake. But the bay has traditionally been closed to fishing when the season is late in order to protect the large numbers of spawning walleye that congregate near the mouth of the Pike River.
But DNR Area Fisheries Manager Edie Everts said her agency is
going to let Vermilion’s special regulations address that concern this year. Those regulations limit the number of walleye in possession to four and maintain a protected slot of fish 17-26 inches in length.
“We’ll monitor it this year and see how it goes,” said Evert.
While Pike Bay will be open to anglers, Everts said the the DNR has already decided it will close Pipestone Bay on Basswood Lake from May 11-17 to protect spawning walleye. The closure encompasses that portion of the bay located south of a direct line from Kosulainen Point to Gary Island to Caribou Point.
Hatchery still waiting for spring
While the Tower DNR fisheries crew is typically busy this time of year with operations at the Pike River hatchery, the river remains locked in ice. Everts said the crew has dragged fish traps onto the ice, but other than that all they can do is wait for warmer weather.
“I suspect this will be one of our latest starts ever,” said Everts. Since 1971, the latest that the hatchery crew ever began stripping eggs was April 28, in 1996. The hatchery crew began operations last year on March 26, which was the earliest start date ever.