Even with the potential for record-setting ice out on area lakes, a Department of Natural Resources official said lakes in the area should be open for the May 12 fishing opener.
"There is still 30 inches of ice on many lakes," Glenwood DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Dean Beck said.
Yet, "I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that our lakes in west central Minnesota will open by the May 12 fishing opener," Beck said.
The DNR climatology office maintains long term ice out data for select lakes, none within Stevens County but the two reference lakes closest to Stevens County are Lake Minnewaska and Artichoke Lake in Big Stone County.
Lake Minnewaska, one of the larger area lakes, ice-out dataset runs from 1906 to 2017 with the earliest ice out date being March 21, 2006, and latest ice-out date on record was May 11, 2013.
Artichoke Lake, south of Chokio, has a shorter dataset, running from 1983 to 2017. The earliest ice-out date on record was March 16, 2016, with the latest ice-out date on record being May 8, 2013.
All unoccupied fish shelters had to be off the lakes no later than midnight on March 5, Beck said.
Beck noted several pickups with larger fish houses in tow on Lake Reno last weekend, but "we certainly don't recommend it," Beck said.
Still, "there continues to be a fair amount of ice fishing activity," Beck said. However, most anglers are walking or moving around with ATVs at this point in the season because "As the ice decays, it breaks down along the shoreline making getting on and off the ice more difficult and risky," Beck said.
He also recommends not fishing on lakes with a river current like Pomme de Terre Lake in Morris.
"I would not recommend continued ice fishing on those lakes with a river current moving through them or fishing near inlets or areas with moving water since the ice could be expected to be much thinner," Beck said. "No ice is considered safe ice."
The late season of ice and its thickness effects the fish population, Beck said.
"We had some winterkill in late winter due to the extended ice cover. Those basins impacted tend to be a little protected from wind and shallow," Beck said. "There wasn't much snow cover on some of the larger, windswept lakes, so there was still modest sunlight penetration and even green plants evident on the bottom."
Although the ice did cause some winterkill, the DNR was surprised by some data it collected. Beck said oxygen levels in some shallow lakes were supersaturated.
One such lake was very shallow Lake Hattie, just south of Alberta.
"We check Lake Hattie at regular intervals during the winter because it is prone to winterkill and the Save-A-Lake Association is permitted to aerate the lake to prevent fish mortality associated with oxygen depletion during snow and ice cover," Beck said. "Over the course of this winter, we recorded dissolved oxygen levels that were extremely elevated. Gas supersaturation also has potential to cause gas bubble disease and fish mortality, but I'm hopeful that that won't be an issue for Lake Hattie."
In most years with normal snowfall, late ice cover with little-to-no sunlight penetration often results in oxygen depletion, winterkill and loss of fish in many wetlands and shallow lakes, Becks said, which is why the supersaturated oxygen levels on Lake Hattie came as a surprise.
When the fishing opener arrives, fishermen may notice the impact of late ice.
"The late ice will influence fish behaviors and potentially fishing success at time of the opener," Beck said. "Spring water temperatures and to some degree, daylight length, influence when fish spawn. Walleyes will begin to spawn at approximately 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Northern pike start earlier as water temperature pushes 38 degrees Fahrenheit. If our walleyes are still in spawning mode or the spawn is just wrapping up due to the late ice cover, [fish] will likely be less aggressive and harder to catch on the May 12 opener. I'd recommend fishing on those lakes on the Pomme de Terre River or the shallow prairie lakes that should be ice-free earlier this year."