Glen Belgum of the Nisswa Guide Service thinks the 2013 walleye and northern pike fishing opener could be one for the books.
“This is just one of those rare years (that) we’re going to look back and say, ‘Remember 2013?’” Belgum said of the Saturday, May 11, fishing opener.
Belgum had a fisherman booked for opener, whom he planned to take fishing on the south side of Gull Lake. The fisherman canceled, though, because of the thick sheet of ice that’s only beginning to pull away from shore.
The ice was less than 10 feet from shore at Grand View Lodge on Monday, May 6, said the lodge’s marketing director Frank Soukup.
Belgum said he and other fishermen will look to the Mississippi River for fishing this opener. The river is open.
“Most people don’t want to fish the river, but this year is an extreme year and we’re just going to have to go where there’s open water,” Belgum said.
On the other hand, he believes some fishermen may just wait until the ice is out.
Belgum’s concern isn’t just the ice — it’s also bait.
“A lake shiner is what people want to use for opening first two to three weeks for walleye,” he said. But if the lakes are iced over, the bait trappers can’t get to the bait. Even if the lakes open, he said, the shiners only come into the shallows where they’re trapped if the water’s the right temperature.
Sgt. Scott Goddard, Crow Wing County water patrol, is also worried about the water temperature, but not because of bait. He’s not sure that water temperatures on many lakes will break 40 degrees, which raises the risk for hypothermia.
Goddard said some lakes that appear to be open could still have floating chunks of ice, which pose a hazard to boaters, especially those boating at night.
A further hazard to boaters is the lack of buoys and hazard markers on the lakes. They haven’t been placed yet, so boaters will need to use extra caution on lakes that are open.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Department reminds anglers that no ice should be considered safe ice, and they should consider other modes of transportation than motorized vehicles on ice.
The sheriff’s office has responded to several complaints of ATVs, snowmobiles and utility vehicles through the ice, the department stated, noting none of the incidents resulted in injury.
They also advise anyone who does choose to travel on the ice to carry a cell phone, not travel on the ice after dark and let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back.
Resorters are also feeling the chill of this year’s fishing opener. Lynn Scharenbroich, an owner of Black Pine Beach Resort in Ideal Township, said Monday that some of her water lines are still covered in snowdrifts. She said ice on the Whitefish Chain is just starting to pull away from the shore.
“You couldn’t even get a toy boat in there,” she said.
Scharenbroich said that while spring demand for her resort is down this year, she’s had no cancellations. Many of her customers are repeats who come every year.
Bret Jevning, owner of Cozy Bay Resort on Lake Edward, had similar comments. Most of his guests are groups that come year after year and have developed a tradition, and most of them are still coming.
Jevning said the ice on Edward is still thick, and there were 22 inches on Friday, May 3.
Larger resorts, including Grand View Lodge in Nisswa and Breezy Point Resort, reported no cancellations, saying their customers will generally go golfing in absence of fishing. Cragun’s is optimistic Steamboat Bay on Gull Lake will be open.
Fishermen are getting boats on the water in some areas, including the channels at Bar Harbor, Zorbaz and Ernie’s on Gull Lake, said Sherree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait south of Nisswa.
Wicktor believes Gull Lake won’t be open by Saturday, but thought Round Lake would be ice-free by Wednesday, May 8.
By comparison, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that the ice was out on Gull and Lake Edward on March 26, 2012, and the ice went out on Pelican Lake on March 27 last year.
Scharenbroich said anglers simply may not be able to fish their favorite spots on opener this year.
“It might be one of those (years) that just gets talked about forever. It’s got a little personality of its own. Maybe it will go down in history as one of the more interesting openers,” she said.