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Ready, set, fish, Minnesota

Saturday's opener will be breezy but the ice is out of nearly all lakes -- except in the far northern Arrowhead region.

ducks on lake with ice
Nearly all Minnesota lakes have lost their ice in time for the 2023 walleye fishing opener Saturday, including Lake Winnibigoshish, which went officially ice-free Thursday morning.
John Myers / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — It took nearly two weeks longer than usual in some cases, and had some people unnerved about getting their boats and docks in the water, but the ice has gone out of nearly all northern Minnesota lakes just in time for Saturday’s fishing opener.

The ice officially went out on Lake Vermilion on Wednesday and on Lake Winnibigoshish on Thursday morning, just 48 hours before walleye season, said Pete Boulay of the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

The exception is across extreme-northern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties, including most of the bigger Gunflint Trail-area lakes, which remained largely ice-covered as of Thursday.

Grab your nets, a big bucket and a fishing license, smelt are in town.

“This year, just like last year, will be last-minute on ice-out around a lot of lakes up here on the Gunflint Trail,” said Mike Berg, owner of Seagull Creek Fishing Camp, near the end of the trail.

But Berg said ample sunshine Wednesday and Thursday seemed to be melting the last ice quickly.


“If we had some wind now, the ice would go out very fast,’’ he noted. “Seagull Lake should be open by Saturday and Saganaga Lake should follow closely.”

Gunflint Lodge on Gunflint Lake reported the big lake on the Ontario border still had considerable ice cover on Thursday afternoon but that sunshine was melting it fast.

Recent doses of warmer temperatures, sun, rain and wind combined to break the final ice up on many lakes across the Northand which, just two weeks ago, didn’t seem likely to happen by the May 13 walleye opener.

  • Upper Red Lake lost its ice May 5 this year compared to the average April 30. 
  • Mille Lacs Lake officially lost its ice May 5 this year compared to the April 25 average.
  • Pokegama Lake (Grand Rapids) lost its ice May 6 this year compared to the average April 27.
  • Big Sandy Lake lost its ice May 5 this year compared to the average April 21.
  • Shagwa and Fall Lakes near Ely lost their ice May 8 this year compared to the usual average of April 28.
  • Leech Lake lost its ice May 9 this year compared to the average April 28.
  • Lake of the Woods hadn’t been declared officially ice-free as of Thursday, but fishing guide Joe Henry reported Tuesday that there was “open water as far as the eye can see’’ from the south shore in Minnesota. Parts of the island-studded Canadian portion of the lake have been ice-free for more than a week.
  • Rainy Lake also hadn’t been declared officially ice-free as of Thursday, but the folks at Island View Lodge said there is open water as far as they can see and that boats have been moving on the lake for several days.
License sales reached a recent peak during the 2020 pandemic and have dropped some since then.

With a later-than-usual ice-out this spring, it’s likely the water will be colder than usual for the walleye opener, which means anglers may want to adjust their fishing techniques. Walleyes likely will have only recently spawned in some areas, which affects where in the lakes they will be and how hungry they will be.

If you are unsure about the status of your favorite lake, call a resort or bait shop nearby. The Minnesota DNR also offers a lake ice-out website, but it’s not guaranteed to be up to the minute. Go to dnr.state.mn.us/ice_out/index.html.

How late is spring 2023? Not a single Minnesota lake lost its ice in March this year, which is highly unusual, and only one did the first week in April.

Greenwood Lake in Cook County is on average the last lake in Minnesota to lose its ice with a median date of May 8, but it has happened as late as May 24.

The latest ice-out on record in Minnesota is for Gunflint Lake, on the Ontario border, which didn’t lose its ice until June 3 in 1936.


Event included a catfish excursion on the Red River with volunteer guides from the Red River Catfish Club and a morning shooting clay targets at the Dakota Sporting Clays range west of Grand Forks.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources report for the week of May 22.
Salmon and trout were biting, but a big east wind blew anglers off Lake Superior midweek.
The in-person contest is June 3, or fish anywhere and submit entries on an app.
The goal on this opening day was to catch enough keeper-size walleyes for an evening fish fry that night at Ballard’s Resort, our base for the weekend.
Lake Superior coho have been biting near port entries and river mouths.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources report for the week of May 15.
Big sturgeon like the one Dawson Erickson landed have been all over the internet this spring. Landing the fish would have been nearly impossible without help, Dawson's dad, Kevin Erickson, said.
There is great fishing available everywhere in Minnesota, not just on the big waters of the north country, was the message when Mankato hosted the sport's annual season-opening celebration.
Anglers gather on the bridge year after year for a very successful opening day tradition.

Watch for gusty east winds Saturday

The National Weather Service in Duluth is forecasting highs in the mid-50s for the Twin Ports and mid-60s for the Grand Rapids area for Saturday with a 20% chance of rain showers. The big weather issue for anglers may be gusty east winds, from 15-35 mph near Lake Superior and Duluth and 15-25 mph in the Grand Rapids area.

Some Superior National Forest campgrounds may be closed

Most state parks and national forest campgrounds across northern Minnesota are open for the fishing opener weekend. But a few Superior National Forest campgrounds may remain closed because crews haven’t been able to fully access them. Some may be open but not have water or other amenities.

Snow covered the ground at several forest campgrounds along the Gunflint Trail and Tofte areas until just recently. Access roads into camping areas may also still have snow or be muddy. In addition, be prepared to encounter downed trees and debris.

Campers should call the Gunflint Ranger District headquarters in Grand Marais at 218-387-1750 for updated campground status.

more by john myers
Since 1958, the all-volunteer squad has been finding and saving people, winter and summer, from the Boundary Waters to Brookston and beyond.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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