Nice out means ice out on Minn. lakes

Published 8:39 am Friday, April 2, 2010

That loud noise you heard Tuesday?

It was thousands of Minnesota anglers jumping for joy at this spring’s early ice-out.

Many of the Twin Cities’ small lakes are ice-free today, causing a burst of activity at area bait and tackle stores.

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“My business is three times what it was a week ago,” said Josh Stevenson of Blue Ribbon Bait in Oakdale on Tuesday. “People are excited. It’s great it’s happening during spring break, too.”

State climatologists are not predicting record early ice-outs this year, but from the Twin Cities to the Canadian border, lakes are expected to lose their ice about a week to 10 days earlier than average.

Pete Boulay, who updates the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ ice-out Web page, said he waited until Wednesday to make his updates because so many lakes lost their ice Tuesday.

“We’re early but not record early,” Boulay said, adding the Twin Cities enjoyed the sixth-warmest March on record. “On March 1, there was no way I could have predicted a month like this.”

I reached Bill Dougherty by cell phone Tuesday while the owner of Rainy Lake Houseboats on the Canadian border was fishing for walleyes on Rainy River. Under special border rules, the river is open to walleye fishing until April 14.

Like a lot of resorters, Dougherty has a fishing hangover from last summer, also known as the Summer When Fish Didn’t Bite.

With an outboard motor humming in the background, Dougherty shouted, “This is great. If we have reasonable weather in May, we’ll have fantastic fishing. I’m looking forward to one of the better openers (May 15) if this weather holds.” Rainy Lake still had ice on Tuesday, but another resorter, Barry Woods, said anglers finally were giving up on ice fishing as the lake began to open up around the edges this week. Ice-out would be a week to 14 days earlier than average, he predicted. The average is May 3; the earliest was April 13, 1998.

“I’m predicting a spectacular bite for early crappies,” Woods said. “Guys are going to trade their (ice-fishing gear) for boats by the end of the week if the bays open up.”

On Tuesday, DNR technicians were already setting walleye traps on the Pike River near Lake Vermilion and Pine River near the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. Used to collect walleye eggs and milt for the DNR’s walleye-stocking program, the traps are going out several weeks ahead of schedule. The two rivers account for 40 percent of the DNR’s walleye egg-collection quota.

“We’re definitely early,” said Tim Goeman, regional fisheries supervisor based in Grand Rapids. “Some of our staff are comparing this to the spring of 2000, when we had early ice-out, but the walleye spawn dragged on for a month.”

Walleyes begin their spawning runs based on water temperature and length of the day. If the weather cools, Goeman said, walleyes will trickle into the traps, rather than make a mad rush. A trickle of walleyes makes for long workdays for crews, but not necessarily a poor spawning year.