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Far northern Minnesota lakes may still have ice on the fishing opener

May sunshine may not be enough to make up for April's cold.

Fish Lake spring ice
Ice still covered most of Fish Lake Reservoir north of Duluth on Tuesday. It's expected most Duluth-area lakes should lose their ice just in time for the May 14 fishing opener. But lakes farther north may hold their ice longer.
John Myers / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — It won’t be as bad as 1936, when Gunflint Lake didn’t lose its ice until June 3, the latest ice-out on record for Minnesota. And it probably won’t be as bad as 1950, when Vermilion and Leech didn’t go out until May 23.

But spring 2022 could go down as one of the later ice-outs for far northern Minnesota lakes, rivaling 1996 and 2013 for modern late records, and that may mean some lakes won’t be ice-free in time for the May 14 Minnesota fishing opener.

All northern Minnesota lakes have blown past their median ice-out dates, in some cases a week or more behind their long-term average. That's the report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources State Climatology Office ice-out database as a frigid winter and cold spring have maintained lake ice far longer than usual.

ice-out dates.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

As of Wednesday morning, with just 10 days to go to the fishing opener, not a single lake north of Minnesota Highway 200 was reported as officially ice-free.

The good news is that last weekend’s rain, coupled with a forecast of ample sunshine and warmer temperatures, has many lakes loosening up around the edges and rotting white ice into black. Meanwhile Mille Lacs Lake lost its ice May 2, a week behind average. But lakes in the northern third of the state had much more ice, after a much colder winter, and had more snow for more weeks, shielding the ice from the sun.

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"You have to melt the snow before you can melt the ice, and there was a lot of snow up north," said Pete Boulay of the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

The consensus is that most lakes south of U.S. Highway 2 in Minnesota will be ice-free by May 14 while some lakes to the north may not. Anglers heading north should call ahead to bait shops, resorts and lake residents to make sure their destination lake is open.

"It's progressing. Slowly. Big Sandy was opening up this week — it might be out today — so it's slowly moving north," Boulay said Wednesday.

ice out 2022 May 3
A satellite photo taken May 3 shows most lakes south of Minnesota Highway 200 free of ice, including Mille Lacs Lake, while all lakes to the north remained ice-covered. Many lakes in far northern Minnesota may still hold ice for the May 14 fishing opener.
Contributed / Minnesota State Climatology Office

John Chalstrom, proprietor of Chalstroms Bait and Tackle in Duluth, said he was confident that Duluth-area lakes will be open for the opener, “but north of here, all bets are off.”

The last Minnesota lakes to lose their ice on average are the bigger, deeper lakes along the Ontario border, especially along the Gunflint Trail. As of midweek they showed no signs of letting loose in time for the opener.

“The ice will more than likely be around for the opener and who knows how long after,” said Mike Berg of Seagull Creek Fishing Camp located near Seagull Lake near the end of the Gunflint Trail. “It’s going to be a late start up here.”

With 10 days to go before the opener, Berg said there was still snow on the ground, with some back roads and boat landings still not open. Ice was clinging tightly to shore on all lakes, he said, although streams were starting to run free.

ducks on lake with ice
A pair of ducks approach a landing on Rice Lake Reservoir near Duluth on Tuesday. While there was open water near the lake's outlet, most of Rice Lake remained covered in ice.
John Myers / Duluth News Tribune

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Docks may not be in

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources crews have docks in place at boat landings on Lake Superior and along the St. Louis River Estuary in Duluth. But they obviously must wait for the ice to leave before they can put docks in on inland lakes. Kevin Johnson, area supervisor for the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division, said crews were watching Grand, Caribou and Rice lakes near Duluth for the first ice-out opportunities to put docks in. Those smaller, shallower lakes usually lose their ice before larger, deeper lakes in the area.

The DNR oversees about 1,100 boat landings in the state. Minnesota Power and local governments also administer some landings.

dock on shore
Docks at the Rice Lake Reservoir boat landing near Duluth remained on shore on Tuesday.
John Myers / Duluth News Tribune

John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jmyers@duluthnews.com.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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