Fishing Opener: Late ice causes headaches for anglers, area business owners
BEMIDJI — Those who study phenology have discovered that nature follows a predictable pattern.
When the new leaves of the oak trees are about the size of a mouse’s ear, the time has come to offer nectar to the hummingbirds. And two weeks after the canal that connects Stony Point Resort to Cass Lake opens, the lake will be free of ice.
The canal opened Wednesday.
"I still have 3-foot snowdrifts on our property," said Jim Bowley, who owns and operates Stony Point Resort with his wife, Karen. "Because of the late spring, I haven’t even been able to turn on the water."
Fishermen will be scrambling to find open water when the 2013 walleye season beings today at midnight. Anglers who try to venture onto most of the Bemidji area lakes will have to dodge ice floes, and in areas with navigable water, the boaters will probably have to dodge each other.
"The open-water options are going to be very limited," said Ron Bostic of Taber’s Bait in Bemidji. "I don’t think any area lake of any size will be open, and that probably includes Bemidji and Irving.
"Some people may know of some lakes that will be open but Grace won’t be one of them. And if a lake the size of Grace isn’t open, what will be?" Bostic added.
Ralph Phillips of Froggy’s Sports in Cass Lake has scratched most of that area’s lakes off the list when anglers inquire about potential places to fish on Saturday.
"My advice to them is to look to the clouds, talk to God and see what He tells you about the ice," Phillips said. "There is no way Cass Lake and most of our area lakes are going to be open. The big question we are asking now is if the lakes will be open by the second weekend.
"There was a group that stopped in on Monday that had been fishing on Winnie," Phillips continued. "They said that Winnie still had 20 to 25 inches of strong ice."
Upper Red Lake also will likely be off limits for the opener, according to Barb Woltjer who owns and operates West Wind Resort in Waskish.
"The ice is rotten but it’s not breaking up," Woltjer said Wednesday afternoon. "You can’t get out to measure the ice thickness but I think it would take a miracle to have the ice off by opener."
Walleye are spawning
The area rivers are flowing and will harbor many walleyes. Because of the late spring, however, those walleyes are still spawning and need to be protected.
"Some of the area rivers will be closed to fishing until May 17," said Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries Supervisor Gary Barnard.
Those rivers include:
E Mississippi River (Beltrami County) below Ottertail Power Dam to Wolf Lake;
E Turtle River (Beltrami) below Three Island dam to Turtle River Lake.
E Shotley Brook (Beltrami) from Hwy. 72 to Upper Red Lake;
E Tamarac River (Beltrami) from Upper Red Lake upstream to the Beltrami-Koochiching County line;
E Blackduck River (Beltrami) from County Road 32 to the Red Lake Reservation boundary;
E Little Cut Foot Sioux (Itasca) from Highway 46 to Williams Narrows (includes First River Lake and Egg Lake);
E Clearwater River (Clearwater) below Clearwater Lake dam and extending 900 feet;
E Long Lake (Hubbard) below the inlet culvert south of Hwy. 34;
The walleye spawning run hit full stride earlier this week and the run is expected to be short and compact.
Each spring DNR officials collect the quota of eggs required to raise enough young to complete their stocking programs and the officials are hoping to gather their 300-plus quarts of walleye eggs by the end of the weekend.
"It’s been a long time coming but on Tuesday we started our egg take," Barnard said, adding that the net on the stream near Big Lake contained about 200 males and 40 females of the Mississippi strain. "I think the spawn will go quickly.
"Usually, when there is a late spawn the young walleyes grow quickly and are strong."
In a typical year the fishing opener signals the beginning of the tourist season and the resorts are filled to near capacity.
This year, however, things are different.
"All of the reservations we had for this weekend have cancelled," Woltjer said. "We are full for next week and some people postponed their reservations because of the ice, but if Upper Red Lake is not open by then, I don’t know what to tell you.
"All we can do is hold on and hope for the best."
"We’re not even close to a typical year (in terms of campers)," Bowley said. "Many people have cancelled. There is a group that is staying but only because they are getting together as a family. I think all they plan to do is to sit by the lake and watch the ice melt."
The economic woes also are hitting the area bait stores.
"The situation this year is really terrible," Phillips said. "Opening weekend is usually a big weekend for us and for many other area businesses but this year it is not looking good.
"Things just keep coming at us," he continued. "Two years ago, we had the state shutdown when they wouldn’t sell fishing licenses. Last year we had the July storm that closed all of the campgrounds. And now we have the ice."
In addition to fewer places to fish on Saturday anglers will also have to contend with a limited amount of available live bait.
"There is a major shortage of minnows this year," Bostic said. "We are dealing with a major freeze-out throughout the state. The snow cover limited the sunlight getting into the water which limited the plant growth. Fewer plants limited the oxygen content and that resulted in the winterkill of the minnows.
"I can almost guarantee that I’ll have enough fatheads and crawlers for the weekend but I hit a lot of avenues this spring looking for spot-tails and there is a very limited supply. If everything comes that I have ordered, I’ll have enough bait."