Anglers Face Icy Waters in Parts of Minn. for Fishing Opener

Updated: 05/10/2013 7:37 AM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen

Anglers heading out this weekend for the fishing opener may find better luck in the southern half of Minnesota, at least when it comes to open water.

Many lakes are setting record ice out dates this season after the cold spring. And, those late ice-outs are putting a crunch on some bait supplies too.

Leeches are hard to find throughout the entire state. Bait companies can't get out to trap leeches on ice covered lakes up north and luring them in with food is tough thanks to the winter fish kill.

Reports from around the state:

Lake of the Woods

Jim Ney with Border View Lodge in Baudette says there’s still ice on the main body of the lake, but the current has opened areas around Lighthouse Gap and Morris Point Gap, as well as Four Mile Bay. Ice and debris have also cleared out of the Rainy River.

Anglers probably won't be too concerned about ice on the main lake. Because of the cold spring walleyes haven’t moved farther out into deeper parts of the lake, Ney said.

A shortage of leeches may not be a concern either. Anglers will likely be using minnows because of the cold water temperatures.

Ney said the DNR reported walleyes may have begun spawning in the river, but they don’t believe they are spawning in the lake.

As far as lodge reservations go, Ney says they are full for the opener and they expect a good May and June.

Leech Lake Area

Aaron Regier with Swanson’s Bait & Tackle in Hackensack said Thursday morning he knew of only a couple open lakes in the area, but smaller to medium size lakes could be opening up by or during the weekend, depending on the weather.

Regier said some of the bays on Leech Lake were opening up, but overall the lake remains pretty frozen over. Windy conditions this weekend could help break up more of the ice.

For the opener, there will be a good supply of fathead minnows, suckers, crappie minnows and nightcrawlers, he said. Anglers may be able to find some small leeches and shiners, which are expected to sell quickly.

Fathead and rainbow minnows will likely be the best bet for the opener.

Regier says business has been tough, but the shop is expecting traffic to pick up.

Alexandria Area

Christopherson Bait Shop Sales Associate Alex Paterson said there is still ice on almost every lake in the Alexandria area. Off the top of his head he said he only knows of about three lakes that are open right now, but the 20-30 mph winds expected this weekend should help the ice out. He said he’s expecting most of the small lakes will be open by Saturday and that the shallow areas of the bigger lakes should be open. He also added that he’s been fishing off shore and that there’s a “decent bite.”

Paterson said business has been very slow this spring, especially because a lot of people don’t prepare ahead of time. He’s expecting a “mad rush” with the lakes open up. They will have everyone on staff this weekend and most weekends throughout the summer.   

They aren’t expecting to have leeches right away for the opener and there will be shiners in limited quantities. They will have minnows and nightcrawlers, though.

He says business probably won’t be all that busy for the opener but they’re expecting it to really pick up the weekend after Memorial Day.

Mille Lacs

Rod Scott owns Rods Bait and Tackle in Isle. He says business is down 90-percent of where it normally is this time of year. Scott also says the late ice out has made it very difficult to find bait like leeches, fatheads and shiners.

Scott says last year during fishing opening weekend they went through 250 pounds of leeches. He says this year he’ll be lucky to get five pounds of leeches in stock. He attributes the bait shortage to trap ponds still being frozen in northwest Minnesota, near the Red Lake area.

Scott says a majority of Mille Lacs remains frozen and he does not expect it to go out before Saturday morning’s opener. “We still had people fishing crappies, on the ice on Monday in Isle Bay.”

The ice out line appears to be just south of the Mille Lacs area, 20 miles south, Ann Lake and Knife Lake are said to be wide open.

Lake Pepin/Southern Minnesota

Lakes in southern Minnesota are benefiting from the north’s frozen waters.

Travis Smerud, assistant manager at Four Season Sports in Red Wing, said people have been fishing on Lake Pepin since mid-April when the ice began disappearing.

“We’re pretty much the only spot that’s really open right now,” he said.

The business expects to see an increase in sales for this weekend’s fishing opener. The shop plans to add an extra worker to help keep up with the workload, Smerud said.

But leeches will be missing from many people’s bait choices this year since many of the lakes inhabited by leeches are still iced over, Smerud said. The short supply has caused the Four Seasons shop to raise its price on leeches from $2.50 a dozen to $4.

Leeches are “usually a big opener thing,” Smerud said. But not this year.