Minnesota opener: There will be fish. There might be ice.
TOWER — Julie Kranz’ phone rings often in these last days before the Minnesota fishing opener. Kranz manages the Hoodoo Point Campground on Lake Vermilion, just a mile from downtown Tower on a point that juts into the 40,000-acre lake.
The callers all want to know the same thing: Will the ice leave the popular lake in time for Saturday’s fishing opener?
From her office window, Kranz could see a portion of Pike Bay. On Wednesday, open water rippled along shore, but black and rotting ice covered the rest of the bay visible from the campground. Most of Lake Vermilion remained ice-covered.
Kranz is staying optimistic about Pike Bay.
“My prediction is we’re going to have open water for the opener,” she said.
With the fishing opener just two days away, lots of anglers are wondering if they’ll be able to launch their boats on lakes across Northeastern Minnesota. While many smaller lakes are open, others were having trouble shaking their ice cover.
Island Lake, north of Duluth, had extensive areas of open water, but large sheets of ice remained, too. Ice covered the main part of Duluth’s Fish Lake, said Tim Wagner of Hi-Banks Resort, but there will be open water to fish off Lavaque Road where the Beaver River enters. The St. Louis River in Duluth is open and probably will attract a crowd on Saturday.
Farther north, Lake Winnibigoshish, near Deer River, was about three-quarters open on Wednesday, said Rick Leonhardt of High Banks Resort.
“You could fish,” Leonhardt said. “We were in this position four years ago. The north shore is all open.”
Crane Lake is open from the Vermilion Gorge out to the islands and southeast to the Echo River near Nelson’s Resort, said Gretchen Janssen of Voyagaire Lodge and Houseboats. Anglers will be able to fish where the Vermilion River enters through the gorge and where the Echo River enters, she said. North of the islands, the lake still was ice-covered on Wednesday.
“We were pretty happy to see water, that’s for sure,” Janssen said.
Red Lake was ice-free as of Wednesday, said Linda Olson of West Wind Resort on Upper Red Lake.
“It’s completely gone,” she said.
In the Ely area, Shagawa Lake won’t be ice-free for the opener, said Jim Orcutt of Jim Orcutt’s Guide Service. White Iron Lake will be partially open, where the river enters, he said. Garden Lake and Fall Lake are open, he said, and Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake, always popular on the opener, was beginning to open.
On the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais, many lakes remain ice-covered, including Gunflint Lake, said Shari Baker of Gunflint Pines Resort.
At the west end of Pike Bay on Lake Vermilion, Jay Schelde looked out over open water that extended about a mile up the bay on Wednesday. A loon called from somewhere out on the lake, a sound that hasn’t floated over the water for about six months.
But an early opening day and a late ice-out are tough on the lake’s resorts, said Schelde, president of the Lake Vermilion Resort Association. That happened last year, too.
“It definitely hurts you,” Schelde said. “In the fishing community, the word spreads like wildfire. I see it on Facebook: ‘Is the ice going to be out?’ ”
Resorts adapt as best they can, he said. Some will offer to pay guests to trailer their boats to another resort for launching, just to keep them for opening weekend, he said.
Schelde expects lots of guides and anglers to use his boat launch this weekend. Most of them will want to fish just down the bay, where the Pike River enters the lake. That’s where many of the lake’s walleyes go to spawn. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources closes the river to fishing to protect the fish, said Jeff Eibler, DNR assistant area fisheries supervisor at Tower.
“We’ll string buoys across the mouth of the river,” Eibler said. “At 12:01 (a.m. Saturday), there will be boats lined up there. Quite honestly, they’ll get some fish.”
An 18- to 26-inch protected slot limit and a four-fish limit restricts the harvest and protects the walleye population, Eibler said.
At Hoodoo Point, conservation officer Clay Rumph, of the 1854 Treaty Authority, took a swing through the DNR’s public landing Wednesday morning. The organization manages off-reservation fishing, hunting and gathering rights of the Bois Forte and Grand Portage bands of Lake Superior Chippewa. If the main part of Lake Vermilion remains ice-covered on Saturday, anglers will be concentrated in Pike Bay, Rumph said.
“I think there will be a lot of fishing pressure,” he said.
But he hasn’t ruled out a chance that the main lake may open.
“It’s a tough call,” he said.