Winter fishing update

The early December snowstorm delayed things a bit, but at least three of the most popular lakes in the region are beginning to open their ice roads to larger vehicles.

Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, sent out a report this morning saying ice roads along the south shore of the big lake are plowed, and resorts are letting mid-sized vehicles onto the ice. As always, check with resorts for the latest conditions and specific restrictions and stay on marked trails. There’s up to 16 inches of ice, Henry said, but cold weather has caused a few cracks and pressure ridges.

Resorts on Upper Red Lake also are beginning to allow pickups and wheel houses onto the ice. Jerry Barthel of Rogers on Red, on the south shore of Upper Red, said on his Facebook page that he’d prefer vehicles be half-ton or smaller, but larger pickups are being allowed, too. The key is to go slow. West Wind Resort along the east shore of Upper Red in Waskish, Minn., also is allowing smaller vehicles of a half-ton or less. Ice is now pushing 14 inches thick, though areas with heavy snow cover could have less.

Brad Durick of Grand Forks shows off a couple of the perch he caught Saturday on Devils Lake while fishing with John Adams of Big John’s Guide Service. Despite the bone chilling cold made even worse by a blustery northwest wind, Durick’s new Frabill side-entry fish house stayed toasty warm inside. (Brad Dokken photo)

I had a chance to fish Devils Lake on Saturday with Brad Durick of Grand Forks and John Adams of Big John’s Guide Service in Devils Lake. There aren’t any plowed roads — not that I saw, at least — but pickups are running all over the lake right now. Just a guess, but I’d say the ice in the area we fished — out of courtesy, I won’t give specifics on the location — was pushing 20 inches, and Creel Bay looked like a small city as pickups and portable shelters converged to try their luck on the perch and walleyes.

There is enough snow — and, in places, slush pockets — on Devils Lake that anyone who doesn’t have four-wheel drive could end up doing some shoveling. Adams has four-wheel drive, and his truck got a good workout in a couple of spots as we bounced our way across the ice.

Despite the subzero temperatures and brisk northwest wind, the perch fishing lived up to the reports I’d heard, and I watched several fish literally race up from the bottom and pound the gold tungsten jig I had tipped with Eurolarvae. Durick has one of Frabill’s new side entry portable houses, and I must say I liked what I saw. I especially liked not having to stumble over the heater, the electronics and other gear to get in and out of the house.

The shelter also has quilted fabric, which proved to be a godsend Saturday and kept the inside of the house from frosting up and raining on us.

We had our best fishing from mid-morning until early afternoon, when the bite slowed, and we were off the ice shortly before 3 p.m. Besides half a bucket of football-sized perch, we landed four or five bonus walleyes.

Good to excellent reports also are coming from both Upper Red and Lake of the Woods.

I’m working ahead a bit for the holidays, and I’ll have a story on our Devils Lake excursion the Sunday after New Year’s. Stay tuned.


Not enough ice for larger vehicles – yet

Despite the cold weather, it looks like it’s going to be at least a few more days before larger lakes in the region have enough ice to safely support larger vehicles.

On Upper Red Lake, Rogers’ on Red on the south shore reported this morning on its Facebook page that it won’t be allowing anything heavier than snowmobiles and ATVs onto the lake yet this weekend. West Wind Resort on the east side of the lake near Waskish, Minn., posted a similar report Tuesday. The ice depth is averaging 9 to 10 inches, according to West Wind, which isn’t considered enough to support larger vehicles.

No doubt last week’s heavy snow has slowed the ice making process.

Sportsman’s Lodge on Lake of the Woods sent an email update this afternoon, reporting that Adrian’s Resort, which maintains the ice road out of Four-Mile Bay, was finding 7¾ to 9 inches of ice on the bay and 10 to 12½ inches on the lake north of Pine Island. Only ATVs and snowmobiles are being allowed for now, and it will probably be another week or so before roads are opened to trucks, Sportsman’s reported.

Woodland Resort on Devils Lake reported Tuesday that it was finding “quite a bit” of 12-inch ice on Creel Bay and was starting to put rental houses onto the ice. Mark Bry of Bry’s Guide Service, who mainly fishes the East Bay and East Devils Lake areas, said he was finding many areas with 8 to 10 inches of ice, with less in places.

As for the fishing, the report from all three lakes is pretty much the same: Good.

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.