Frozen Lakes Cut Into Minnesota Fishing Tradition

NPR icon by Conrad Wilson
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On the shores of Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota, it finally feels like spring. But the lake looks like winter.

Saturday marks the opening of the walleye fishing season, and it's usually one of the busiest weekends for the state's resort communities. But this year, many of the northern lakes are still frozen, restricting water access and, potentially, local businesses.

Rick Bruesewitz, a fisheries manager for the Department of Natural Resources, says it would be tough to get a boat in the water in most places around the lake.

"We've got maybe ... 150 yards of open water. And that's just in front of a creek," he says. "When you go away from the creeks, in a lot of areas it's still tight to shore even or has 10 yards or 10 feet of open water."

On a typical opening day, thousands of anglers launch boats into this lake; most hoping to return with a walleye for a shoreline lunch.

Maybe not this year. According to the Minnesota State Climatology Office, lakes north of the Twin Cities are approaching record late ice-out dates set in 1950.

Farther up the lake's shoreline is Twin Pines Resort. Here, the ice comes even closer to shore. The docks are still sitting in the yard and, of course, so are the boats.

Inside, resort owner Linda Eno is behind the bar, ordering supplies for the season. She says the resort is usually booked solid this weekend, but now, just more than half of the rooms are reserved.

"A lot of tradition goes into opener. It's not always the best fishing. But there are families and friends and groups that have never missed an opener together," she says.

Eno's hoping no one cancels and a few make some last-minute reservations. But with little promise of the type of fishing many anglers are accustomed to, she knows that might not happen.

"After living on this lake for any extended amount of time, people know you can't mess with Mother Nature, and there's no sense getting upset because there's not much you can do," she says.

On the other side of Lake Mille Lacs, Terry McQuoid owns McQuoid's Inn. Earlier this week, he was finishing up construction on several new docks.

McQuoid says bookings are a little down for this weekend, but the rest of the season is shaping up to be a good one. Plus, he says, the fact there's still ice on the lake is history in the making.

"It'll be something special. You can tell your grandkids about it later on," he says.

However the weekend shakes out, this much is for sure: The few places where Minnesota anglers searching out walleye can find open water are certain to be packed.

Copyright 2013 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.mpr.org/.

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