Old Man Winter may yet deliver another blast or two, but spring can't be far off now.

In another sure sign that warmer days are near, the ice-fishing season for many Minnesota anglers ended last week when they were required to remove permanent ice fishing shelters from rivers and lakes in southern and central Minnesota.

The deadline to remove icehouses from Minnesota-Wisconsin border waters, including the St. Croix River, was March 1, and the cutoff date for shelters on lakes and rivers in Washington County came a day later.

Jason Peterson, a DNR conservation officer and supervisor for the East Metro district, said that, in general, "people were doing a pretty good job" getting their fish houses off the ice on time.

As anglers removed their shelters, many said their ice fishing season had been less than prosperous, in part because it was defined by inconsistent ice conditions and not much snow.

"This year, as far as ice conditions, it seems really weird," said Scott Arntzen, a DNR conservation officer. "The ice really varies from point to point on the lakes. Some spots I've seen almost two feet of ice, other spots I've seen 15 inches of ice."

"[Anglers] weren't having quite the success this year fishing as they'd like," said Sgt. Tim Harris of the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

While the conditions might not have been ideal for fishing, there were fewer ice-related fatalities in Minnesota this year — three as of Feb. 1 — and fewer instances of icehouses and vehicles falling through the ice, state officials said.

Harris said he hadn't seen any houses or vehicles go through the ice on Washington County lakes or rivers. "We had a couple close calls earlier in the year where we had kind of a warm-up," he said.

Fish houses and portable shelters on northern Minnesota lakes must be removed by the end of the day March 16. The deadline for removing icehouses on lakes and rivers along the Minnesota-Canada border is March 31.

If shelters aren't removed by the deadlines, DNR officers can remove, sell or destroy them at their discretion, Peterson said.

Though officers patrol the lakes and rivers regularly, Peterson said they will check waterways more frequently after the deadlines.

Blair Emerson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune