This most recent winter blast of wet heavy snow we received between Christmas and new year's has changed the ice fishing game in the area for at least several more weeks. The amount of snow cover we had was insulating the ice and making slow work of building good thick ice. Most lakes were hovering around 10-12 inches of thickness with very inconsistent thicknesses due to the way this winter has settled in on us. With the early skim over it looked like we were going to set up nice for quality early ice.
Some anglers were able to take advantage of quality early ice bites. The ups and downs of the weather along with multiple snow events stalled the buildup of ice even to the thicknesses making it safe for small trucks. Not much available for plowing either even before this last storm. Now, we have extremely slushy conditions and significant flooding on the lakes.
Sled traffic on the lake is the only sensible approach to getting out ice fishing at this time. You can also expect to run into slush conditions with a sled, and fishing will be messy and wet. I feel bad for the few people that did not get their permanent houses off the lakes before this last snow. They will be significantly challenged to get houses off, and the houses will most likely be froze down solid due to the flooding. The weight on this thickness of ice is sagging the ice. Water seeks its own level, so any cracks or drilled holes in the ice will boil water onto the surface along with the significant snow cover.
We have a seven- to 10-day forecast of fairly mild weather for this time of the season, so don’t look for ice conditions to improve much. It will take a couple weeks of some brutal cold to stiffen everything back up and help thicken the ice. This situation of challenged ice conditions has occurred all over the state.
Lake of the Woods becomes the go-to destination now for getting on quality ice. The quality pan fish bite for crappies and big gills had started to heat up over deeper soft bottom basin areas just before the holiday storm. If you can get to it with track vehicles like sleds, wheelers with tracks, or Snowbear, you will enjoy the continuation of that quality bite with very little fishing pressure due to the conditions.
If venturing out in these current conditions, make good decisions and minimize your risk. Getting stuck on the lakes in these conditions is stressful. It is also hard to count on help to get off the lakes as others are at risk to get stuck trying to help.
Columnist Brad Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.