Will the late ice-out hurt walleye fishing this year?

Will the late ice-out hurt walleye fishing this year?

Here's what you need to know about how the long winter could affect next month's walleye and northern pike fishing opener.

Minnesota's walleye and northern pike fishing opener is May 12, and for many of it signals the traditional turning point from snow shovels to sunscreen.

But a month out some lakes in central Minnesota are still covered with more than 2 feet of ice, and there's no sign of letting up.

Forecasters say there's another snowstorm on the way this weekend that could drop more than 4 inches on parts of the state.

Here's what you need to know about how the long winter could affect next month's walleye and northern pike fishing opener.

Will the fishing opener float Minnesota's boat this year?

A lot can happen in four weeks, but there's no way to know yet if the water will be open.

"It's pretty extraordinary to have this cold in April, but thinking of the opener, a lot can happen in a month. Is this just a blip that's going to last a week, or is this going to be what the rest of the spring is like. It's too early to tell," said Pete Boulay, Department of Natural Resources climatologist.

But he does note that the state just wrapped up the coldest first week of April on record and that night-time temperatures have to stay above freezing for the ice to really go.

Boulay said the snow doesn't help either: it's like a giant lake mirror, reflecting sunlight off lake ice.

Have we had ice-outs this late before?

We sure have — and fairly recently. In 2013, the governor's fishing opener in Park Rapids actually had to be moved onto a river because Fish Hook Lake was still iced over on May 11.

Mille Lacs Lake, the state's best-known walleye fishery, wasn't open water until May 16 — just 11 days before Memorial Day that year. Mille Lacs has only had ice in the second week of May three times in the DNR records that date back almost 70 years, in 1950, 1975 and 2013. The median date for Mille Lacs in state records has been April 25.

Terry Thurmer, owner of Terry's Boat Harbor on Mille Lacs, remembers 2013 well.

"We only had a couple people that were able to go out and fish close to shore. And then as the ice moved they had to get back in here, because there was still a lot of ice on the lake," he said.

He's had hundreds of boats launched from his ramp in other years.

And he said the cold added insult to injury, as the DNR has since tightly restricted fishing on the lake, including a catch-and-release walleye season again this year on the lake.

What about climate change? Is it really getting warmer if we have late ice-outs?

Boulay has said that ice-out dates aren't a great indicator of climate change — they're more of a barometer of what's happening in any given spring's weather. But spring is a highly variable season in Minnesota. For instance, the only March ice-out on Mille Lacs on record was in 2012. This year, not a single lake in the state is officially open water as of Tuesday, although there are stretches of lakes that are ice-free.

Boulay said Minnesota is an outlier this year.

"We're just a small dot on the map, in terms of climate and climate change. There's places in Alaska that had the warmest March on record. I think Barrow had the warmest March on record. Just because its cold here in Minnesota, doesn't mean its cold everywhere," Boulay said.

But be assured, he said — it may come in fits and starts, but spring is still on the way.

By Tim Nelson, MPR News 

Source, image, credits & more information: BrainerdDispatch

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