Strange ride continues for anglers seeking to extend late-ice season

Crosby, Minn. — Thunderstorms, strong winds, spring-like temperatures, and even tornadoes in some areas. Welcome to the 2017 late-ice fishing season in Minnesota.

It’s been a crazy ride, weather-wise, across the state again this past week, and those conditions have pretty much ended any ice-fishing options south of Little Falls. Lakes in the Fairmont area, for example, are already wide open.

But if you’re willing to travel, say from Brainerd north and to the northwest toward Detroit Lakes and beyond, finding ice suitable for ATV use and even some truck use remains an option.

According to Jesse Williams, of Oars ‘n Mine Bait and Tackle in Crosby, last Sunday’s 60-degree weather and Monday’s rain took their toll on many accesses on lakes in this area. But with the return of cooler weather since then, some of those areas have again buttoned up.

With some exceptions, main-lake ice remains favorable for ATV travel and walking, although there are spots to watch out for even once you get on a given lake.

“Any old roads or heavily fished areas have spots of questionable ice, so you really need to watch where you’re going,” Williams said. “But we still have plenty of good ice, so I know we’ll have a lot of guys out, at least through this weekend.”

You can go as far west as Alexandria and still find walkable ice, although there is a distinct line west and south of this region that now offers few, if any, ice-fishing options.

Denny Fletcher, of Fletcher’s Bait in Sauk Centre, said ice conditions vary around his area, but there are a handful of lakes that people should be able to get on this weekend without hesitation.

In fact, with more seasonable temperatures expected – even dipping well below freezing at night – many shorelines might be in better shape this weekend than last.

“I think we’ll be fine for walking and maybe for four-wheelers. It just depends on the weather,” Fletcher said. “The shorelines have held up surprisingly well on the lakes people are fishing, so I think we should be good for at least another week.”

Permanent fish houses remain on several lakes around the Blackduck area. This area has been colder than most of the state, and despite some rain on Monday, lakes are showing few signs of a spring thaw at this point.

Carl Adams, of Timberline Sports and Tackle in Blackduck, pointed out that fishermen should start watching heavily used accesses if it continues to be warm, but for now, those areas remain solid.

“The ice is holding up pretty darn good despite the unusual weather,” he said. “I don’t see any issues  for this weekend, and we’ll probably be driving trucks until the next warm spell.”

Again, it’s worth noting that while temperatures have been above average statewide, it hasn’t been nearly as warm in the northern part of the state. Any rain that fell or accesses that were compromised have pretty much refrozen.

Such is the case in Grand Rapids where lake conditions also have improved over the past week. Ben Kellin, of Ben’s Bait and Tackle, described the ice as “solid and tight” on Tuesday morning. He sees no issues for anglers in the near future.

“The ice is fantastic and we’re driving trucks shore to shore on every lake,” he said. “I haven’t heard a bad ice report, and it’s actually getting better with the colder weather.”

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