FISHING SEASON
Plenty of ice to greet anglers on Saturday
Tom Klein
M. Helmberger
Ice remained across most of Lake Vermilion's Pike Bay as of Friday. Most other lakes in the area remained ice-covered.

REGIONAL - The calendar says Saturday is the Minnesota fishing opener, but Mother Nature has offered up a different schedule this spring, and that means anglers and businesses that cater to them will have to adjust.

As of Wednesday, ice covered just about every lake in the region, and the prospect for much open water by the May 11 kick-off was looking increasingly doubtful. Some open water on Fall Lake or the west end of Shagawa remained a possibility with two days to go before the start of the fishing season. Pike Bay on Lake Vermilion was slowly opening, but ice remained on all but the southern tip of the bay as of late Wednesday. As for most other lakes, U.S. Forest Service pilots who flew a wide swath of northern St. Louis County on Tuesday afternoon reported the vast majority still locked in ice from shore to shore.

Just getting bait this season has been a challenge, according to Val Cook of Cold Springs. His business supplies bait shops and resorts across the region.

“We can’t get enough bait,” said Cook, who estimates that his business has less than 50 percent of the minnows it typically has on hand for opener. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in 70 years in the business.”

Many of the ponds where they trap minnows are still frozen over, Cook said, and cold water temperatures have slowed the movement of minnows to the shallows where they can be netted in open water pockets on some of the lakes.

Cook said Cold Springs will be delivering bait to shops and resorts, but it will be less than their normal amount.

“Something might open in the Minneapolis area or Wadena area by the weekend, but we would have to deliver the bait on Sunday,” he added.

Tom Musech at The Country Store in Cook expects a slow fishing opener and although the reduction in bait this season may cause some complaints, he’ll make do with what he gets.

On a typical opener weekend, he said, he usually has to drive to Cold Springs by Friday afternoon to replenish his bait tanks. “I don’t think I’ll be making that trip this year because there won’t be that many anglers and they may not have the bait to sell me,” he said.

Musech anticipates he’ll see about 50 percent of the business that he had last year. He added that he didn’t even schedule extra staff this weekend as he usually does over opener weekend.

Although the true anglers will probably sit out the opener, some people will still come, he said. For some folks, it’s more about tradition than fishing, he said. Area restaurants and bars will be the chief beneficiaries, he said. “If they can’t fish, they’ll want to do something.”

Randy Semo, who operates Good Ol’ Days Bar and Grill in Tower agrees. “Lots of people will be coming up anyway and if they can’t get in the water, they’ll be looking for something else to do. I think it will be busy.”

Not every business owner is as optimistic. Ellen Hart, of the Gateway Store, said Lake Kabetogama resorts and businesses are bracing for a smaller opener. Ice remains on all the major lakes along the border.

“We expect about 50 percent of the people who normally come for opener will be here,” she said, adding that summer residents will come just to get their cabins and homes ready for the season.

Some water along the shoreline has opened at Kabetogama, she said. Another promising sign is that the Ash River is open. Kabetogama normally is open about a week after that, she said. Anglers can stay abreast of conditions at Kabetogama by logging onto the website www.kabfishingreport.com, she added.

Hart expects good fishing on the lake this season and said anglers who fish from shore or troll open water on the shoreline could have success on the opener.

“Business will be down a little bit, but we’ll make up for it in the weeks that follow,” she said.

Tony Norman of Norman’s One Stop in Orr said his business has received tons of phone calls from people asking about the ice conditions. He said he advised most to call back later in the week when they have a better idea of how much ice has retreated from the lake.

“Right now it’s just a waiting game,” he said. “Mother Nature has full control.”

Some of the area rivers such as Echo River and Pelican River are open and running. Those rivers and the Vermilion Gorge are typically some of the best fishing spots for opener, said Norman. There also could be large pockets of open water on Pelican Lake along the shoreline by opener, depending on the weather for the next few days.

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