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Brad Dokken / Forum News Service, Published May 04 2013

Ice concerns linger for Minnesota walleye opener

GRAND FORKS – This is going to be one (fill in the blank here) Minnesota walleye opener.

That’s the consensus of fisheries managers and fishing experts going into Saturday’s opening day of walleye season in Minnesota. With ice still covering lakes in the northern half of the state, including such perennial favorites as Upper Red, Lake of the Woods and Lake Bemidji, there are a lot of unknowns.

“I think the ice pack in the northern part of the state is going to be questionable to be out by May 11,” said Henry Drewes, regional fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji. “From an angling perspective, people are going to need to adjust if they’re on one of those larger lakes or consider some of the smaller lakes or flowages and travel south. We’re easily seven to 14 days behind normal.”

Nowhere, perhaps, is the uncertainty greater than in Park Rapids, Minn., host community for this year’s annual Governors Walleye Opener.

“The weather’s nice, birds are back – and the ice is thick,” joked Jason Durham, a longtime Park Rapids-area fishing guide who is scheduled to host Gov. Mark Dayton on Saturday morning on Fish Hook Lake. “We still have a snowball’s chance of seeing open water by the opener.”

Early this past week, Fish Hook Lake was covered with more than 2 feet of ice, Durham said, but tributaries such as the Fish Hook River, which traditionally offers good walleye action early in the year, at least offer options for event organizers.

According to the DNR, the latest ice-out recorded on Fish Hook before this year was April 29, 2011.

“The couple of things we’ve got going for us is one, we have history on our side,” Durham said. “Generally, Fish Hook is an early ice-out lake. The other is current, and they’re starting to open up now, and that open water just breeds more open water.”

“We’ve taken care of every variable that we can, but unfortunately, we can’t influence the weather. It is what it is, and we’ll just have to roll with it.”

Because of the late ice-out, which in turn has delayed this year’s spawning run, Drewes said the DNR this week will have to decide whether to implement temporary closures on flowages such as the Mississippi chain, the Tamarack River that flows into Upper Red Lake and other places where spawning walleyes traditionally congregate.

“We anticipate more spring closures than normal,” Drewes said. “Some will likely extend into the opening of fishing season. We’ll hold off as long as we can to make that decision but will try to make it in a timely manner. We’ll make that decision early this week.”

Despite the uncertainties, Durham said he’s not nervous about hosting the governor. And while he also is a member of the pro staff for Clam Corp., which manufactures the Fish Trap series of portable ice houses, Durham says he’s not planning to pack the ice fishing gear as a contingency.

“There have been a lot of jokes about that, and even up to about a week ago, it looked like that could have been a reality,” Durham said early this week. “With each passing day now, with the warmer weather, I definitely believe nobody is going to be on the ice in our area, which is a good thing. The latest I’ve ice fished is May 1.”

Brad Dokken is the outdoors writer for the Grand Forks Herald