Up North, resorts see revenues going south

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 6, 2013 - 6:30 PM

Ice is likely to take a toll on the earnings of opening weekend.

 Ready or not, Minnesota’s fishing season opens Saturday. And while it’s uncertain whether ice will be gone from many northern lakes, one thing is assured: Resort owners and other businesses will see revenue disappear if the ice doesn’t. Here are reports from four:

Lake Winnie: doubtful

“Is the opener a big deal? Hell, yes,’’ said Mike O’Reilley, owner of Northland Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish — a top walleye destination and one whose ice-out status is very much uncertain.

“Our cabins are full, the campground is full, we sell a lot of bait,’’ said O’Reilley, who’s owned the resort for 29 years. “It means lots of money for everyone — think of the effect on gas stations, restaurants, bait shops and resorts. Let’s hope it [the lake] opens.’’

If not, anglers will either still come and fish other waters that might be open — including the nearby Mississippi River — or they’ll go elsewhere or stay home. Some resorts can shift reservations to the following weekend, but not O’Reilley’s: That weekend is booked.

“We can’t push them back a week; we’ll just have to call ’em up and say, ‘See you next year,’ ’’ he said.

If that happens, some customers will roll their deposits over to next year; others will get refunds, O’Reilley said.

Meanwhile, there is some open water in the bay near his resort, where the Mississippi leaves Winnie. “It’s full of ducks, lots of ringbills,’’ O’Reilley said. “And yesterday I counted over 40 loons.’’

A tantalizing taste of spring.

Lake Kabetogama: no chance

Tim Snyder owns Idlewild Resort on Lake Kabetogama in Voyageurs National Park south of International Falls. He holds no illusion that ice will be gone there by May 11. Eighteen inches of ice still gripped the lake last week.

“We’ve written off the opener,’’ he said. “Everyone is guessing May 15 to 18 [for ice-out]. We need sun, rain and wind.’’

About half of his 11 cabins had been booked for the opener. That business likely will be lost because he can’t shift those customers to the following weekends. “I’m full,’’ he said.

Which means if the ice isn’t gone by May 18, the 16 or so resorts on Kabetogama would lose a second weekend of business. “Everyone would be screwed,’’ Snyder said.

What about deposits most resorts require for reservations? “There’s a lot of money sitting out there,’’ Snyder said.

At his resort and others, normally if a customer cancels, they lose their deposit unless the resort can fill the vacancy. But in this unusual case, Snyder will give customers the option of using the deposit for a future visit, or getting a refund. Nearly all the resort owners he’s talked to will do the same.

“You’ve got to take care of your customers,’’ he said. But he knows of one resort owner who intends to give no refunds.

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