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Ready for fishing opener, ice is leaving lakes early this year

Ice is leaving northern Minnesota lakes 5 to 10 days earlier than average this spring, not the record pace southern Minnesota saw earlier this season but still a welcome sign in what has become a stubbornly cool spring.

Ice left nearly all lakes in the southern half of Minnesota in March, with record or near record dates for many tracking warm temperatures and sunshine.

Lake Minnetonka west of Minneapolis had the earliest ice-out date in 139 years, losing its ice on March 17, nearly a month before the average date. White Bear Lake near St. Paul lost its ice March 16, three days earlier than the previous record set in 2012.

But then April hit, with snow and cold, slowing ice-out in the northern half of the state. April could be the first month in the last 14 to see below-normal temperatures on average in Duluth, and the cooler trend has helped ice hang on longer than expected.

So far northern lakes are well behind their record ice-out pace of 2012 yet way ahead of the excruciatingly late 2013, 1950 and 1936 ice outs.

"Just about every lake up north is going out earlier than normal, but in some cases not by that much," said Pete Boulay of the Minnesota Climatology Office. "The good news is that every lake in Minnesota should be out well ahead of the fishing opener'' set for May 14.

Here's a selection of Northeastern Minnesota ice-out data from the state Climatology Office:

• Fishermen who live near Lake Vermilion in Soudan said the lake appeared ready to go out over the weekend. That would be about seven days ahead of the long-term average of April 30, with records going way back to 1893. Vermilion's earliest ice-out was March 29, 2012 and latest on record was May 23,1950.

• Lake Winnibigoshish lost its ice April 21, five days earlier than the long-term normal but well short of the March 30 record of 2012 and well ahead of the record late ice-out of May 17, 2013.

• Fall Lake near Ely, which has ice out records dating back to 1935, lost its ice on April 20, eight days ahead of the long-term average but well after the March 27 early-out record in 2012 and well before the late record of May 19, 1950.

• Leech Lake, with records back to 1936, lost its ice April 17 this year, 11 days ahead of average but well behind the April 2 early record of 2012 and well ahead of the May 23 record late date in 1950.

• Big Sandy Lake in Aitkin County west of Duluth, with records going back to 1930, lost its ice April 11, 10 days earlier than the average of April 21, well behind the record March 26 set in 2012 and well ahead of the record late ice out of May 12 in 2013.

• Pokegama Lake near Grand Rapids also lost its ice April 11, also 10 days ahead of average and also well behind the earliest March 26 in 2012 and latest May 12 in 2013.

• Island Lake Reservoir near Duluth lost its ice officially on April 17 (although there was some ice still floating around on April 19) well behind the April 1 record of 2012, well ahead of the May 17 late record of 2013 and 10 days before the April 27 average date.

The pace has been slower to the north. Pelican and Ash Lakes near Orr lost their ice on April 21 and 19, each just three days ahead of the long-term average. Bearhead Lake near Ely lost its ice April 18, just a day ahead of normal, while Sturgeon Lake north of Hibbing lost ice April 21, four days earlier than average.

Most lakes in Lake and Cook counties remain locked in ice but are starting to open around the edges, as are big border lakes like Rainy and Lake of the Woods.

The last lakes in Minnesota to lose their ice are generally bigger, deeper lakes along the Ontario border in Cook County, such as Gunflint and Saganaga, which on average don't become ice free until May 6.

Gunflint holds the record of the all-time latest ice out on record in Minnesota — June 3, 1936.

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