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.

Fish and Wildlife Service taking comments on Lake Alice ice fishing proposal

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now taking public comment on a proposal to open Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge to ice fishing.

The comment period on the draft plan began Nov. 12 and continues through Dec. 20. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before the plan translates into anglers being able to fish through the ice on Lake Alice, but it should be welcome news for anglers who’ve been itching to fish the refuge portion of the lake through the ice.

The lake now is connected to several upstream waters in the Devils Lake Basin, and groups such as the Lake Region Anglers Association in Devils Lake have been working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to get the proposal to this point.

The portion of Lake Alice within refuge boundaries would remain closed to open-water fishing under the Service’s proposal.

I’ll be doing a story for this Sunday’s Outdoors section with more details on the draft plan, which hopefully will include a timetable for when the feds will open the lake for ice fishing. But in the meantime, the Service’s draft documents are available online here.

Paper copies of the plan also are available at the Devils Lake office of the Fish and Wildlife Service, 221 Second St., N.W.

To comment on the plan, write the Service at the above address or by email at devilslake@fws.gov. Please include “Draft Fishing Plan” in the subject line.