Late ice-out on Minnesota lakes draws concern as fishing opener nears

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Anglers across Minnesota are counting down the hours until the fishing opener this Saturday, but the late start to spring could put a damper on plans. 

Just behind McQuoid's Inn in Isle, the race is on.

“This year, just had all those late storms, kept the snow on the lake as long as possible and the sun couldn't eat it up,” said Mike Verdeja, McQuoid's Inn manager.

Verdeja and his team are trying to get the docks ready for Saturday's fishing opener. The ice is finally receding enough for them to get started.

“There’s just so much work that you can’t get done,” said Verdeja. “So today, we’re doing things we would have done a month ago.”

The late ice-out is also affecting reservations.

“People were going, 'There’s no way we’re going to make it,'” said Verdeja. “It didn't look like it for a very long time, so we definitely had some people cancel that hopefully are going to come up once the lake comes out and still come.”

The long-lasting ice and cold are other challenges for resorts on Lake Mille Lacs still dealing with the impact of walleye fishing restrictions. They say the timing of this year's ice-out is critical to ensure a good season.

“You have only so many of those good prime May through the summer weekends, and maybe early fall, and you start chopping a couple of those off and that hurts the bottom line,” said Verdeja.

The DNR says ice-out or not, the water will still be cold, so anglers are urged to wear life jackets when out on the lakes.

“Most of our fatalities when it comes to drowning aren't wearing their life jackets, usually it’s the first time out for a lot of people, check the boat, check the registration, so check the life jacket, check if they’re serviceable,” said Greg Salo of the Minnesota DNR.

Verdeja is optimistic the sun, wind and rain expected this week will take care of the ice once and for all.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to make it,” he said. “I think this lake’s going to be ice-free by the opener.”