Some of Minnesota’s most popular fishing lakes are expected to be iced in on Saturday’s fishing opener — an occurrence not seen in perhaps 60 years.
Ice reportedly is still 2 feet thick on some northern lakes, and though it has deteriorated in many areas, major lakes from Lake Mille Lacs north — including Leech, Upper Red, Cass, Lake of the Woods, Winnibigoshish and Vermilion — still could be mostly ice-covered Saturday.
“There will be substantial ice cover on the northern third of the state,’’ said Henry Drewes, Department of Natural Resources regional fisheries manager in Bemidji. “It will not be gone by Saturday. This is certainly the most significant late-season ice cover I have seen in my 25 years with the DNR.’’
One likely would have to go back to 1950, when late ice-out records were set on many lakes, to see a comparable situation.
Terry Thurmer of Terry’s Boat Harbor on Lake Mille Lacs said the most popular walleye lake in the state still was gripped in ice Tuesday, and chances are slim the ice will disappear by Saturday.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t see it happening,’’ he said. “The small lakes around here still have ice, and they’re the first to go.’’
Opening weekend normally is his busiest of the year, and hundreds of boats would launch from his site for $10 apiece. Losing the opener will be a financial hit for him and other businesses on the big lake. “It’s huge,’’ he said.
Drewes said he saw five anglers ice-fishing Monday on a small lake south of Bemidji. But anglers who want to say they ice-fished on May 11 should beware. Ice has deteriorated in recent days.
“It definitely won’t be a good idea to go ice fishing,’’ said DNR conservation officer Darin Fagerman of Grand Marais. “It will not be safe. You can’t say you did it if you fall through the ice and drown.’’
He expects lakes in his region to be ice-covered on Saturday.
Anglers should check ahead before venturing north. Some lakes and rivers will be ice-free, as will portions of some lakes, and rain and wind can quickly melt ice. Still, the 2013 opener could be one for the record books.
Jason Durham will guide Gov. Mark Dayton on the Governor’s Fishing Opener on Saturday at Fish Hook Lake near Park Rapids. “The ice is black and pulling away from the shore,’’ he said Tuesday. “There’s a chance [ice will be gone]. It will go right down to the wire.’’
If Fish Hook is ice-covered Saturday, Durham will take Dayton on rivers connected to the lake, which already are ice-free. And other smaller lakes in the area are opening. About 100 boats will be taking guests out for the event. “We have enough places to fish, we’ll just be more spread out than usual,’’ Durham said.
There is one benefit to the late ice-out: “We will be fishing pre-spawn fish, which typically are more active and ready to bite than post-spawn fish.’’
A cold snap is forecast for Saturday, with highs in the mid-40s in northern Minnesota.