BEMIDJI-Anglers face a Monday, March 18, deadline to remove so-called permanent fishing shelters on lakes north of U.S. Highway 2 or face steep fines from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
DNR officials called attention to the deadline Wednesday, March 13, saying forecast rain and warm temperatures are only going to add to the problem for anyone with shelters still on frozen lakes covered in deep snow and slush.
"Anglers are responsible for removing their shelters by the deadline, so they need to plan ahead - especially this year," DNR Conservation Officer Kipp Duncan, who patrols the Duluth area, said in a release. "It will be challenging for many people to remove their fish houses this year, given the sheer amount of snow that fell in February."
Record snowfall in some areas has created tough conditions on many lakes, officials said, and can also make removing the houses difficult.
In some extreme tough situations - if they can't be reached by truck or are frozen into the lake ice - the best answer may be dismantling shelters piece by piece to get them off the ice, Duncan told the Duluth News Tribune. It is not legal to burn the structure.
The March 18 deadline applies to lakes north of an east-west line formed by U.S. Highway 10, east along Highway 34 to Minnesota Highway 200, east along Highway 200 to U.S. Highway 2, and east along Highway 2 to the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The deadline for northern border lakes is the end of the day Sunday, March 31, the DNR said.
In addition to removing ice houses from the lakes, the DNR is reminding anglers to also not leave anything else behind.
"Anything other than an imprint that's left on the ice is litter-it's as simple as that," said Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division, said in a release. "We also recognize that many people clean up litter that isn't theirs, and we thank them for their efforts to keep our lakes clean."
Conservation officers GPS any late ice houses, record the owners and check back for anything left behind.
If shelters aren't removed by the deadline, owners may be prosecuted and structures may be confiscated and removed, or destroyed by a conservation officer, officials said.
"The deadline to remove unoccupied shelters doesn't have to mean the season is over. Anglers can still use their shelters to enjoy late season fishing while ice conditions allow," said Duncan. "The shelters just cannot be left on the ice unoccupied overnight."
Heavy snow on thin ice caused a slush problem early this winter, as the snow weighed the ice down and forced water up through fissures and holes. That water on top of the ice mixes with snow to create an oatmeal-like quicksand for vehicles.
Conditions improved somewhat during the extreme cold of late January and in February. But record February snows quickly added deep snow drifts to the slush problem, making it hard for even snowmobiles, four-wheel drive trucks and ATVs to get on and off lakes.
The goal is to get shelters off lakes before ice thins and becomes unsafe for travel and the fish houses start falling through.
After the deadline, shelters may be on the ice between midnight and one hour before sunrise only when occupied. They may not be left or stored at public accesses. As they venture out, anglers should always keep in mind that ice conditions may vary widely and that ice is never 100 percent safe.
For more information go to mndnr.gov/fishing/shelter.html
John Myers of Forum News Service contributed to this article.