Wetter would be better: Cold temps could drag ice-out into May, possibly interfere with fishing opener

It wouldn’t be the first time winter butted heads with the state's annual fishing opener, but it hasn't happened often.

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A bench at the mile-long City Beach in Detroit Lakes sits empty, except for a dusting of recent snow cover, as the landscape continues to be frozen, and the lake frozen over, on Monday, April 18, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES – If this were an average spring, the ice would be melting on Big Detroit Lake and open water would be appearing by now.

But this isn't an average spring.

Dick Hecock, a local historian who has logs of Detroit Lake's ice-out dates that go back to 1893 and has been tracking the ice-out dates himself since 1993, says it could be May before the ice is off the lake this year, given the cold weather thus far and more continued cold in the forecast.

If that happens, it would be unusual, but not unheard of. According to Hecock’s logs, there were two times during his recordings when the ice did not come off the lake until May — once in 1996 (May 5) and once in 2013 (May 12).

So it wouldn’t be the first time winter butted heads with the state's annual fishing opener, which is set this year for Saturday, May 14.


A worker at McLaughlin RV & Marine in Detroit Lakes, who was itching to get in some ice fishing on April 8, discovered that the ice on Lake Melissa was still 24 inches thick in the middle of the lake that day. Ice is considered safe to walk on at 4 inches thick; 12-15 inches is needed for medium trucks to travel safely across.

Granted, the area has seen temperatures above freezing and has gotten some rain since early April, so the thickness of the ice has likely diminished.

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Lakes Sport Shop employee Marty Kumpula said on Monday, April 18, 2022 that he's looking forward to the ice melting off the lake and for the state fishing opener to arrive.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Hecock's data shows that March 23, 2012 was the earliest ice-out to happen in the last 30 years.

Lakes Sport Shop employee Marty Kumpula said he isn’t interested in taking his chances on the ice anymore this year. But he is looking forward to boating on open water later this spring. He has experienced his fair share of cold fishing openers, he said, adding that turning a miserably cold day into a memorable one requires the appropriate gear, hand warmers and the right lures.

“My favorite lure for the early season is the Rapula Husky; in shallow waters it has a tight wobble,” he said. “You can catch just about anything with it.”

After many years of fishing the opener with the same group of six men, Rollie Oelfke, of Frazee, said he might be sitting this one out. Members of his fishing group have drifted to different areas over the past year, he said, and unless a call comes through he will be at home waiting for the cold to end.

How cold has this winter been? According to the Accumulated Winter Season Index, the season started off mild but by January the cold broke through to the 'moderate' category — a title it held through the start of February, when temperatures danced a fine line between average and severe.

By March, there was no disputing the temperatures recorded were severe. And so it goes into April.


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The 2021-2022 winter temperatures shifted from mild to severe as spring nears.
Contributed / Midwestern Regional Climate Center

As far as snowfall goes, the National Weather Service reported 69.5 inches of snowfall in the Detroit Lakes area from Oct. 1 through April 18. According to the NWS, that amount falls within the average range.

While only an inch or so remains on the ground now, some people can’t wait until it is gone.

Longtime Detroit Lakes resident Scott Schumacher, for example, said his favorite part of spring is when the snow sinks into the ground and turns everything green.

And people aren't the only creatures who have felt the stress of cold temperatures and continual snow cover. Department of Natural Resources Area Wildlife Supervisor Rob Baden said this winter has been difficult on some animals, as well, such as deer and turkeys.

Baden said east of Highway 59, in eastern Becker County and Mahnomen County, “significant fawn mortality” has been reported, mainly due to starvation.

“I’ve had at least 30 calls from people who found a dead fawn that was curled in a ball and looked very skinny,” he said, noting there may be more reports to come as the snow melts and more landowners venture into their wooded areas.

Fawn deaths impact the deer population, as fewer yearling bucks means fewer four-and-six-point bucks come hunting season, Baden said. Female deer don’t reproduce the first year, so there may be a population dip when those fawns that didn’t make it would have hit maturity.

“I don’t think we will have population level effects,” Baden added. “Hopefully it is just one year where we have a harder winter than normal. The last winter like this that I remember (to impact deer populations) is 2014, so it’s been a while.”


As for the birds, Baden said deep snow cover is good for grouse populations, and most songbirds are able to weather the cold. Turkeys, on the other hand, have seen some deaths due to extreme cold in January and February and lack of access to food while the snow was deep.

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