Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Anglers hitting the ice

Ice thicknesses vary, so anglers urged to use caution as they venture out

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/6/18

REGIONAL—The fish are biting, more or less, if you can get to them.

While the region has had snow on the ground for a month now, the early winter season has so far lacked the kind of extended …

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Anglers hitting the ice

Ice thicknesses vary, so anglers urged to use caution as they venture out

Posted

REGIONAL—The fish are biting, more or less, if you can get to them.

While the region has had snow on the ground for a month now, the early winter season has so far lacked the kind of extended sub-zero temperatures that anglers rely on to give them access to their favorite fishing holes.

“I’m not fishing Big Bay just yet,” said Cliff Wagenbach, a longtime Lake Vermilion guide. He’s been out on the ice regularly, fishing just outside the mouth of Greenwood Bay, where he said there’s generally 5-7 inches of ice. “That’s plenty for four wheelers,” he said.

So far, he said, the fishing has been good during the usual “witching hour” between 4 and 5 p.m. Other than that, said Wagenbach, fishing has been fairly slow in the 15-16 feet of water he’s been working.

Wagenbach normally prefers to fish the deeper waters of Big Bay early in the hard water season, but he’s not comfortable venturing out onto the ice there just yet given the recent temperatures. “Most fishermen are still kind of working their way out,” he said. “I’d like to get out on Big Bay, but I’ll let someone else be the first. I’m too old to fall through the ice.”

Most smaller lakes in the Ely area have had decent ice since the middle of November, and fishing has been “very steady,” according to fishing guide Steve Foss. He said most smaller lakes are capped by 6-10 inches of generally clear and hard ice. “There’s a few inches of snow on that ice, but not enough to produce widespread slush,” said Foss. “Lake travel is generally good.”

While fishing has been decent, Foss said a more predictable weather pattern would help to boost fish activity. “All these little snow fronts that blow through every other day or so have kept us from a period of stable high pressure,” he said.

Foss said he’s been finding pike in the green vegetation or along weed edges, while walleyes and perch have generally been set up along the edges of deeper basins during the day, moving into shallower water toward dusk and after dark.

This is the first hard water season since the new zone-based northern pike regulations went into effect, so anglers will want to be mindful of the change in rules. The new rules establish a two-pike limit, while anglers must release all pike from 30-40 inches, with only one allowed over 40 inches. For spear fishermen, the limit is two pike, and only one over 26 inches.

The new regulations, adopted by the DNR last May, are intended to protect the region’s still-healthy population of medium and large northern pike.

The DNR is also advising anglers to remain cautious while traveling on the ice given the relatively mild temperatures. “Every year, unexpected falls through newly-formed ice lead to tragedy,” said Adam Block, a DNR conservation officer. “Of the six ice fatalities in 2017, five occurred during the early ice season of late November and early December.”

The DNR advises that people should stay off of lakes until there’s at least four inches of clear ice and that people should check the ice thickness at least every 150 feet as they travel.

“In addition to checking conditions locally and being prepared with an ice safety kit, anyone recreating on hard water should wear a life jacket,” Block said. “It’s the one piece of equipment that increases your odds of not drowning from cold water shock, hypothermia or exhaustion should you fall through the ice.”

Wagenbach agrees with the advice. “Just because you see some fool sitting way out there doesn’t mean he didn’t just get lucky.”

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