Nine of Minnesota's top 10 walleye lakes could be ice-covered for opener

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2013 - 12:55 AM

Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji, said 26 to 36 inches of ice covers Lake of the Woods, Upper Red, Leech and Cass lakes

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Organizers of the Governor’s Fishing Opener posed for this gag photo taken April 20 on Portage Lake, near Park Rapids, where Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled to open the fishing season on May 11 — if the ice goes out. Hoping for open water were, from left, Park Rapids residents Matt Hirsch, Jason Durham and Butch De La Hunt.

Photo: Photo courtesy of Erik Osberg ,

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Jay Schelde doesn’t like the odds that ice will disappear from Lake Vermilion by the May 11 fishing opener.

“I think chances are about nil,’’ said Schelde, who owns Pike Bay Lodge and is president of the Lake Vermilion Resort Association. “We have about 30 inches of ice now. I don’t see any miracles happening. It’s unfortunate, but you can’t fight Mother Nature.’’

Vermilion is one of Minnesota’s top 10 largest and most popular walleye lakes, and despite recent warmer temperatures, some believe there’s a chance nine of them could be ice-covered on the opener — ruining the day for anglers, resort owners and other businesses. The lakes account for about one-third of the state’s entire walleye harvest.

Besides Vermilion, the top 10 are Kabetogama, Rainy, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Leech, Winnibigoshish, Cass, Upper Red Lake — all in northern Minnesota — and Lake Pepin in southern Minnesota, which already is ice-free.

Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji, said 26 to 36 inches of ice covers Lake of the Woods, Upper Red, Leech and Cass lakes, which are in his region. What are the chances ice will be gone by May 11?

“I think it’s highly unlikely,’’ he said. “There’s still a foot of frozen slush and snow on top of that ice. It would take extraordinary circumstances for those basins to be ice-free by May 11.’’

The same situation exists on Winnibigoshish, Rainy, Kabetogama, Vermilion and Mille Lacs. And lakes in the northeast, though not in the top 10, also could be covered with ice on the opener.

Rick McKeever of Young’s Bay Resort at the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods said there’s not much hope the ice will be gone there in just two weeks.

“There’s 3 solid feet of ice out there yet,’’ he said Friday. “Unless we get some really, really warm temperatures, I don’t see it happening.’’

Last year, the resort had its boats in the water by early April. “We were golfing in March,’’ McKeever said.

Tony Roach of Willow River guides anglers on Lake Mille Lacs and has plans to open the season there May 11 with family and friends. But he doubts it will happen.

“I don’t think the ice will be out until the 13th or 14th,’’ he said. “We’ll fish some smaller lakes instead — if they are open.’’

His first guided trip is set for May 13.

Governor’s opener

At Park Rapids, site of this year’s Governor’s Fishing Opener, organizers are confident they’ll be able to get Gov. Mark Dayton on liquid water. It just may not be on Fish Hook Lake, as planned.

“There’s still about 30 inches of ice,’’ said Jason Durham, a fishing guide and teacher and organizer of the event. “We’ve got to lose 2 inches a day to make it to the opener. We’re praying for a rainstorm of hot lava.’’

Fish Hook traditionally is an early ice-out lake, and several rivers flow into and out of the lake. “All those areas are open water now,’’ he said. So the governor and his crew could angle on the Fish Hook River, Durham said.

“It’s not whether or not we’ll get to fish, it’s simply where we’ll end up fishing,’’ he said. “We’re definitely in an odd situation, that’s for sure.’’

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