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Will the ice be out for the Minnesota fishing opener?

John McAllister of Duluth pulls his ice-fishing shelter across Fish Lake north of Duluth on Friday as he heads out to fish for crappies. Many anglers are wondering whether the ice on lakes across Northeastern Minnesota will be off before Minnesota’s May 10 fishing opener. (Bob King / / 2
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Anglers were still ice-fishing on Fish Lake north of Duluth last week. Ten days ago, anglers were still driving trucks on frozen lakes near Deer River, said fishing guide Charlie Worrath.

The big question is: Will those anglers be fishing open water when Minnesota’s fishing season opens May 10?

“I think it’s going to be iffy,” Worrath, of Deer River, said Wednesday as another snowstorm unloaded on Duluth and the North Shore. “This (past) week was a killer.”

The conventional thinking is that lakes from Duluth south are likely to be open for the opener, but farther north, anglers could see a repeat of last year, when many lakes remained ice-covered well beyond the opener.

“This morning, we had single digits,” Mike Berg said Wednesday. The owner of Seagull Creek Fishing Camp near the end of the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais added, “It’s just going to take that much longer.”

It’s safe to say that nobody in the fishing industry wants a repeat of last year, when many resorts had to tell opening-week guests to stay home and some anglers resorted to ice-fishing on the opener.

“Last year, they were fishing trout with snow machines and augers on Burntside Lake,” said Jim Maki, owner of the Great Outdoors Bait Shop in Ely.

As of today, the Minnesota opener is 20 days away. A lot can happen in that time, if the weather cooperates. But some observers believe that even with the warm-up forecast for this week, it’s a long shot for lakes across the northern part of the region to be open by May 10.

Here’s what guides and others had to say Wednesday:

Scott VanValkenburg, Fisherman’s Corner, Pike Lake “We should be all right, I think,” VanValkenburg said. “It could be nip and tuck, but it should be out a week before the opener.”

VanValkenburg is so optimistic, he thinks the past week’s snowfall in Duluth is a good sign.

“When the sun hits that moisture, it runs off into the creeks and down into the lakes and rots the ice from below,” he said. “Any precipitation is good.”

VanValkenburg doesn’t relish a repeat of last year’s opening day, when Fisherman’s Corner was quiet.

“Nobody was there,” he said. “It was the weirdest thing ever.”

Jim Maki, The Great Outdoors, Ely Ice out by the opener?

“I really don’t think so,” Maki said. “Those days and nights coming would have to be really nice.”

John Chalstrom, Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle, Duluth “That’s the topic everyone has on their mind,” Chalstrom said. “Everyone wants to know if the ice is going to be out for opener.”

Chalstrom thinks the ice will be gone, at least on lakes near Duluth.

“I keep thinking back to the last super-winter we had,” he said. “Locally, we had ice out, but the northern lakes didn’t. I think we’re lining up for that unless it stays cold. Then we’ll have the same thing as last year.”

Ice is beginning to deteriorate a bit, he said.

“I was talking to a guy on Rice Lake who was looking for panfish,” Chalstrom said. “There is a lot of ice, but it’s cloudy. It wasn’t solid, clear ice. There was 30-plus inches of it, but it was getting kind of soft most of the way through. That’s a good sign.”

Mike Berg, Seagull Creek Fishing Camp, Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais Berg, who has guided on Saganaga Lake for 34 years, was encouraged by the warm spell two weeks ago, when temperatures pushed 60 degrees and lots of snow melted. But on Wednesday, during a week of cold weather, he was less optimistic.

“Every night it gets cold, it’s not gaining anything,” Berg said. “It’s already the 16th (on Wednesday). The dates are getting closer to the opening. The dates are overcoming the actual snow going. Then it’s going to be, ‘Holy cow, it’s a week till opener.’ I think the dates are winning.”

Berg says after last year’s late opener, anglers ought to get a break this time around.

“We deserve an early spring,” he said.

Charlie Worrath, Charlie’s Gone Fishing Guide Service, Deer River Worrath remains undecided about ice-out for opener.

“It’s cold,” Worrath said on Wednesday, from a creek where he was doing some beaver trapping. “If it had stayed warm, we had a chance. I still think there’s a chance. We need that 60 degrees and wind and rain. It’s froze tight to shore.”

Worrath said in years like last year, when the ice goes out after opener, he might miss a couple of guiding trips — but resort and bait shop owners lose a lot of business.

“It’s devastating to the area when that happens,” he said. “The opener’s a tradition. When it’s over, it’s over. The next weekend isn’t the opener. You lose it.”

Billy Dougherty, owner of Rainy Lake Houseboats and fishing guide, International Falls After guiding for 49 years on Rainy Lake, Dougherty has seen a lot of openers come and go — some with ice and most without. He has a prediction about this year’s ice-out on Rainy Lake.

“It’ll probably be around the 12th or 13th (of May),” Dougherty said on Wednesday. “We were going pretty strong until we hit this cold snap.”

Even if the days warm into the 50s in the next couple of weeks, Dougherty doesn’t think the ice will be out by the May 10 opener.

Listening to the ice go out is one of the benefits of living in the north, he said. He will often go out in his boat and sit next to a sheet of ice on the verge of breaking up, he said.

“It’s still from 9 to 16 inches thick,” Dougherty said. “It gets really honeycombed. The music is incredible — the tinkling of the ice. I just sit and listen to it work. Then, the next day it’s gone.”

Barry Woods, Woody’s Fairly Reliable Guide Service, Ranier “I think we could be heading for a record (late) ice-out,” Woods said Wednesday. “As things stand now, we seem to be in this polar vortex. The record late date is May 22 (1950). We could be pushing that.”

Woods was still guiding ice-fishing trips as recently as Thursday, he said, and could do more ice-fishing through the end of the month.

Tim Wagner, Hi-Banks Resort, Fish Lake, north of Duluth “I’m thinking it will go out (before opener) if we get that 60-degree weather,” Wagner said Wednesday. “There’s about 2 feet of ice, but it’s getting soft. The ice is getting darker. All the snow is off of it.”

Still, ice anglers were walking onto the ice of Fish Lake this past week to fish for crappies, he said.