The local ice fishing season held so much promise back in November when an early cold snap created a nice coating of black ice on many lakes in Otter Tail County.
Then came December and hopes for the season sank under more than a foot of heavy, wet snow.
The black ice which had been forming was replaced by punk (as in poor or bad) ice, a product of the snow and rain whammy that blew up from the Gulf of Mexico.
Anglers who had been catching fish through the ice on large, shallow Pelican Lake in Grant County had to abandon their spots - and they were not alone.
“A lot of houses came off,” Fergus Falls Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Manager Jim Wolters said.
Ever since the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 snowstorm there has been widespread flooding on area lakes, a condition created by the weight of the snow pushing down the ice. The snow also insulates the ice underneath so the normal freezing process is stymied.
Lightweight portable houses have popped up on some lakes but they cannot be left out.
“There isn’t a lot of fishing that has been going on,” Wolters said. “ATVs and snowmobiles are really having a lot of trouble getting out.”
More than one pickup has found itself on the bottom.
As the midway point of winter’s coldest month approaches, ice anglers are still finding a lot of slush on lakes. For the anglers who like to fish from big fish houses it is a winter of discontent. Big frame angling houses like Ice Castles are handy and easy to put out when the ice is thick and strong but the risk is often too great on weak ice.
“The way conditions are now I don’t know if they’ll be able to put them out,” Wolters said.
DNR ice thickness guidelines call for a minimum of 15 inches of good ice to support a truck and trailer.
“It always varies by year,” Wolters said. “We never know what to expect for our ice fishing seasons.”
Some have found ice conditions to be much better in northern Minnesota. In talking with people he knows around Lake of the Woods, 185 miles north of Fergus Falls on the U.S.-Canadian border, Wolters has found that the fishing pressure there has been heavy.
While flooding is extensive it is not impossible to find places on Otter Tail County lakes where ice fishing can be done.
“There are areas on lakes that are not flooding right now,” Wolters said.
Wolters is presently concerned about some of Otter Tail County’s big ice fishing contests because of the condition of the ice. He does not know if they can be held.
“Unfortunately, when you get something like this it can kill a whole season,” Wolters said.