PIKE BAY LAKE, CASS LAKE, MN--The shoreline ice around most northern Minnesota lakes has deteriorated beyond the bounds of being walkable but a shallow sandbar provided myself and two fellow anglers the opportunity to have some cautiously safe fun this fishing opener.
In 30-plus years of fishing the mythical Minnesota walleye opener, I can safely say I've never seen ice on my favorite lakes this late in the season. It's been close a few years but never like this and, according to the record books, only a time or two like this in the last century. "I can remember there being ice up here in 1996 but that's about it," said Bryan "Beef" Sathre of Fathead Guide Service in Bemidji and Cass Lake. "The old-timers up here tell me that the last time it was like this was back in 1950, so this is probably a once in a lifetime sort of experience," he added.
Armed with tow ropes, extra floatation and wearing life jackets, Sathre, another friend and I ventured out onto a shallow sand bar along the shore of Pike Bay Lake near Cass Lake Minnesota. The edge of the ice was 8-inches thick and we found ice as thick as 14-inches. The depth of the water we were over never exceeded 5 feet deep and we were well dressed in case something dramatic took place.
We had to drill holes using an ice auger when we weren't along the edge of the ice. There were plenty of small to medium sized perch all over the shelf where we were fishing and the edge of the ice was quite stable, once you broke off a few feet of "honey-combed" ice. How did we get on the ice? The water was so shallow that we just stepped up onto it.
A photograph I posted on Facebook went viral around mid-day Saturday with plenty of comments from people both on the positive and negative aspects of our journey. For one thing, all three of us are very cautious individuals who are otherwise very responsible members of society. We didn't venture into anything where we didn't have extra safety measures in place. There were plenty of opportunities for being stupid but we stayed over water shallower than our height and we didn't venture past a small presure ridge that prevented us from the spot we had selected to fish.
Point being, if we were out there with the primary purpose to fish, we would not have been able to access the locations we wanted to. Just being able to say we fished through the ice on fishing opener was the experience onto itself. I'm fairly certain that whitewater rafters and kayakers take a greater risk than we were that day.
Most comments on Facebook said this was the quintessential Minnesota fishing experience and that's exactly what we were going for when we set out. Those who said it was stupid or irresponsible have every right to say that, but I respectully disagree with them. think it's irresponsible to go in a boat without a life jacket on and check out all the photos of people from this weekend who are without one. Cold water is dangerous whether you are walking through it with insulated waders or in a boat.
None of what we did out there was staged or fake. We weren't sitting on a dock either. That was a solid sheet of ice. It looks crazy but really it was quite tame. The photographs of the two guys with their feet dangling in the water were taken by me, standing about six feet away, on the sandy bottom with waders and a life jacket on.
Ice conditions are rapidly deteriorating and we are fairly certain that the ice we were on early this morning will not be accessible within the next day or two. If you decide to do the same, be sure to take the utmost caution. I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old child and both guys who were with me also have young kids. We left them at home for a good reason. If you decide to do the same as we did, leave the kids at home and remember that you are probably at a greater risk of something happening during your drive to the lake than when you are out there.
Good luck fishing and happy fishing opener 2013!