We usually get some February thaw days, but not typically the first day or two of the month!
The high 30- and 40-degree temps (and the overnight that stayed above freezing) at the beginning of last week did a tremendous job of knocking our snow pack down. The melting and compression of the snow, followed by the cold weather (including overnight below zero) has helped improve area ice conditions dramatically. The snow has crusted over, is firm and the slush has frozen on many of the area lakes. The weight on top of the ice has been reduced, as well as the insulating factor the snow cover was creating that was reducing ice development.
The cold the rest of this past week has helped add several inches to many of the lakes. Some area lakes still only have about 12 inches of ice, but most have climbed to 18-24 inches of ice now.
With the improved ice conditions, look for more lakes to be accessible, as some plowing will occur on numerous lakes over the next week or so. Some of the lakes that had drifting issues along with less ice, will still have some flooding and slushing issues. On all lakes, it doesn’t hurt to spread out and not overcrowd areas to minimize flooding and slushing. Check about ice conditions for the lake you plan to fish before just heading out. Sled travel will be on hard pack snow now, and wheeler travel will improve with the crusty, firm snow, less slushing and minimized snow depths on the lakes.
The walleye bite on area lakes has slowed, which is typical for this time of year. Some fish are still coming through the ice on deeper weed edges or out of deeper basin areas off sharper breaks to deep water. Both jigging and dead rod techniques have been working depending on the day. Best bite time has been just before and just after dark. Crappies and gills continue to be the most sought after now. Some are getting caught on outside edges of weed lines, and some are coming suspended out over deeper soft bottom holes. Jigging small jigs or jigging spoons tipped with high action plastics or wax worms is producing. Moving and covering water can be a key to staying on active fish.
The Mille Lacs Lake harvest for 2020 has been set at the same 150,000 pound level as last year. The Tribal fishing will be able to harvest 62,000 pounds of walleyes, and state licensed anglers will be able to harvest 87,800 pounds the rest of this winter ice season and the 2020 open water fishing season. The open water size and number per angle will not be set until March, after the harvest numbers from this winter are estimated.
I am guessing Mille Lacs will be back to a one-fish-per-angler take (and a limited size window for harvest), followed by a catch-and-release portion of the season, and eventually a closed season on walleyes the remainder of the season based on last year.
This winter’s harvest may even be better than last year, and will impact the summer regulations. I will keep you posted on this issue. Be safe, and make good decisions on the ice.
Brad Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.