Digging out, gearing up on Lake of the Woods

The storm that dumped upwards of a foot of snow across vast parts of the region might be good for skiing and snowmobiling, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for lakes that were just setting up with ice safe enough for walking or light vehicles such as snowmobiles and ATVs.

Besides providing a blanket of insulation that hampers additional freezing, the snow puts weight on the ice and forces water up through the cracks that are a natural part of the freeze-up process.

The result is slush, which can make getting around an absolute nightmare.

A lightweight vehicle pulls a rental ice fishing house onto the ice of Lake of the Woods north of Baudette, Minn. (Lake of the Woods Tourism photo)

The impact of all this snow on ice fishing and access remains to be seen, but the early outlook is favorable on Lake of the Woods, which received about a foot of snow from the storm.

I talked to Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, this morning to get the latest word from the big lake. Henry, who was en route to the St. Paul Ice Show that begins Friday, talked to several resort owners and called me back early in the afternoon to say  it’s “all systems go” for this weekend.

The snow no doubt was a detriment, Henry said, but the biggest impact was the extra workload it put on resort employees. Instead of spending the day pulling rental houses onto the ice and setting them up, resorts first were putting a priority on reopening trails on the ice that drifted shut during the storm.

Despite the setback, Henry said resorts still were on track to set up rental houses on the ice as soon as the trails were cleared.

The lake has 8 to 9 inches of ice, Henry said, which now is covered by 6 to 9 inches of snow. The hope, though, is that the wind will clear the worst of the snow from the vast, ice-covered expanse.

Bottom line: Resorts with reservations on the books for this weekend will be ready to roll, Henry said.

“The snow caused a mess in a sense because they’ve got to plow the roads open,” Henry said. “So far, it looks fine and will not impede resorts from pulling houses out at all.”

That’s good news, because I’m heading up to the big lake Friday afternoon for my traditional early ice opener at Ballard’s Resort, and a friend and I will be fishing out of one of their heated rental houses Saturday.

Hopefully, the hot fishing that has characterized the early ice season so far continues.

Traffic on the south shore of Lake of the Woods remains limited to snowmobiles, ATVs and light vehicles such as Geo Trackers, which the resorts use early in the season to transport customers onto the ice in heated trailers.

Temperatures are forecast to dip into the -20 range this weekend, which should help thicken the ice even with the snow covering, Henry said. In the meantime, anglers should stick to the trails, check with area resorts and bait shops for the latest conditions, and avoid taking dumb risks.

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