Looking forward to hard water fishing; rain changed conditions

Published 6:00am Sunday, December 8, 2013

Column: Woods and water, By Dick Herfindahl

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen the weather go from almost perfect for hard-water fishing to unstable at best. The ice we’ve had for the past couple of weeks was almost perfect, and for the most part, the ice was as close to perfect as any ice fisherman could want. Granted, the ice was still a little thin for my liking with a thickness of 3 to 4 inches in the channel. The fishing seemed to be quite good. Although the walleye were hungry, most of them were only in the 10-inch range. If you were looking for table fare then the jumbo perch would’ve filled that void until the larger walleye showed interest in biting.

A few houses have been spotted on Pickerel Lake, and I’ve heard there have been some northern and perch being caught. Darkhouse spearing is permitted on all area lakes, and this might be a good lake to visit if you are into that part of the sport.

The rain we experienced this past week changed everything in terms of perfect ice conditions. With rain and standing water come unstable ice conditions. So remember to use caution when venturing out on our area’s lakes and streams.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources warns ice anglers, snowmobilers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts to use caution when going onto any lake covered or partially covered with ice, especially those that feature aeration systems.

”Open water areas created by aeration systems can shift or change shapes depending on weather conditions,” said Marilyn Danks, a DNR aquatic biologist. “Leaks may develop in air lines creating other areas of weak ice or open water.”

Aeration systems are generally operated from the time lakes freeze until ice break-up in the spring. They help prevent winterkill of fish, but they also create areas of open water and thin ice, which are significant hazards.

A bill passed during the 2013 legislative session repealed the spearing restrictions on 12 Minnesota lakes including Deer, Moose, North Star and Spider lakes in Itasca County. The lakes were opened to darkhouse spearing effective last Monday.

“It was a common practice in the 1960s and early ’70s to prohibit spearing on waters managed for muskies,” said Chris Kavanaugh, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor. “At one time there were a number of lakes in Itasca County that had spearing bans. Now there are none.”

Spearing of muskellunge is still illegal in Minnesota waters. Those participating in spearing activities are responsible for properly identifying fish before spearing them.

With this being said, I recall a few years ago when the slot limit on northern pike first went into effect on Spider Lake. There was a sign posted at the access stating that the slot limit for northern was 24-36 inches and that they must be returned to the water immediately. Also on that sign was the language about no spearing on the lake. The sign was riddled with bullet holes, and being the astute observer that I am, I deducted it was a message from someone who wasn’t very happy with one or all of the regulations. I believe there are better ways to voice your opinion about something than shooting a sign. As far as I know, that sign is still there — bullet holes and all.

When it comes to ice fishing, we shouldn’t have to travel far to be treated to some excellent fishing. Even if we can have a repeat of last year, it could be a good year. Although the channel didn’t produce a lot of fish in 2012, Fountain Lake provided plenty of action for fishermen. There were plenty of panfish and perch to be had; throw in an occasional walleye or bass and overall it was a pretty good year. I’m sure my grandson Trevor will be spending a fair amount of time on the lake, and I’m hoping he will take old grandpa along a time or two again this year.

Until next time, be careful when venturing out on the thin ice. It’s always time well spent when you spend it in our great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.