The long, cold winter refused to release its grip on some northern lakes in time for Saturday’s fishing opener.
Rainy, Vermilion, Lake of the Woods and many lakes along the Gunflint Trail in the northeast were mostly locked in ice Saturday. Other lakes, including Kabetogama, had some open water but still had sheets of ice, which affected boaters and anglers.
“The west end [of Kabetogama] was limited to shoreline fishing due to the ice shift,’’ said Katy Ebel of Ebel’s Voyageur Houseboats. “Some ice was measured at 1 foot, but it was honeycombed.’’
Anglers there caught walleyes in the Ash River narrows and mouth, she reported, including some 20- to 27-inchers in the shallows along the shoreline.
Lake Vermilion, too, had ice Saturday, which hampered access. Pike Bay was open.
“There were tons of folks there,’’ said Jay Schelde of Pike Bay Lodge. “There were some other areas you could fish, but they were afraid the wind would shift and they’d get locked in.’’
It was the second consecutive opener with ice.
“The ice had an impact on businesses, no doubt,’’ said Schelde, president of the Lake Vermilion Resort Association. “There were cancellations.’’
Schelde said angler success was spotty, but some big walleyes were caught.
Local businesses will be hoping for better weather next spring. Lake Vermilion will be the site of the 2015 Governor’s Fishing Opener.
“We’re excited,’’ Schelde said.
Meanwhile, ice-out was reported on eight northern lakes Tuesday, including Seagull on the Gunflint Trail.
License sales increase
Despite a cold spring, Minnesota fishing license sales are up by 78,000, or 30 percent, from last year — which underscores just how bad last spring was. Many more lakes were ice-covered on last year’s opener than this year, causing license sales to fizzle.
The Department of Natural Resources sold 338,000 angling licenses through Monday, up from 260,000 at the same time last year. That’s still down about 11 percent from the 10-year average. Helping boost this year’s numbers was a 33 percent increase in nonresident sales, to 22,000.
Despite last year’s cold start, sales rebounded during the summer. The DNR sold 1.14 million licenses, down just 1.5 percent from the eight-year average.
“Our angler numbers have stayed pretty steady for more than a decade,’’ said C.B. Bylander, DNR outreach coordinator. “We get blips depending on whether it’s an early or late spring.’’
Doug Smith • email@example.com