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Brad Laabs column: Ice fishing gets tricky now, but it's not over yet

The significant amount of rain we received last Sunday and Monday, along with the week or more of warm weather the week before, has deteriorated ice all over northern Minnesota.

The snow cover on the lakes is gone. With the re-freeze we are getting now, conditions will be very slippery on the ice. We still have about 20 inches of good ice, but there are some areas on the lakes that were impacted more severely and will have considerably less ice.

Areas with current will not be safe at this time. Some lake access points will be in bad shape and require a cautious approach. When lakes warm and cool like they have, expect some heaving at some shoreline areas and expanded pressure ridges on the lake.

Pressure ridges will be risky areas, and watch for larger cracks to open up. Trucks have gone in just off the access on Leech Lake, close to a heave on Red Lake, and even a wheeler on Lake Winnipeg! Caution and common sense must be used for the remainder of the ice season.

You have probably noticed locally that most fish houses have been removed due to the weather of the last week or 10 days. Some will return as the wet and slush re-freeze, and we settle into a more normal weather pattern. It is smart to remove houses when conditions get like they were as they become vulnerable to flooding and freezing down.

The ice shelter removal date is actually (but you wouldn't know it by looking around at the area lakes!) is March 6 for houses south of the line created by Highways 10, 34, and 200. The removal date for shelters north of that line is March 13.

Please, also remember that March 26 is the last day to fish for game fish on inland waters. Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River stay open until April 14, and the Mississippi River from Pool Two at St. Paul south to the Iowa border is open for game fish all year.

This weekend the famed "Eelpout" festival is being held on Leech Lake. They are not allowing any truck traffic with the expected large crowds, since they'd rather err on the side of safety.

Your license for this ice season will end on Feb. 28. You will need to get a new license by March 1 to continue chasing crappies, sunfish, perch, and tullibees in our area.

I have not been on a tullibee bite in our area yet, but the word is that they have started becoming active. I was up on Vermillion last weekend and big tullibees were active from 18-34 feet of water. We were fishing walleyes, and couldn't help but catch tullibees everywhere we fished sharp breaks to deep water.

Your new license as of March 1 will be just like your license this year and be good for all of 2017, and keep you valid until the end of February 2018.

I expect we should have about three more weeks (plus or minus a week) of ice fishing in the Detroit Lakes area. I know that seems hard to believe with the significant January and February thaws we had this year. It seems everyone got a little taste of spring fever and people are ready for the ice season to end, but it is not time yet.

As always, weather and nature are the big factors. Conditions can change fast this time of year due to the inconsistency of our weather. If it gets to be a number of days between your trips on the ice, check with your local bait shop (or someone you know that has been out consistently) for updates on the ice conditions before just heading out on your own.

Brad Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in the Detroit Lakes area

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