It’s been nearly seven months since the ice disappeared from the lakes in my central Minnesota fishing grounds. And as of last weekend, the first of my go-to waters were locked in a sheet of ice. I meet this development with mixed emotions.
On one hand, after the brutal winter of 2013-14, the open-water season slipped away really fast. I must admit, I wouldn’t mind taking one last spin onto soft water to jig up a few late-season crappies or troll for pike and walleyes. And the thought of going six months without the intoxicating smell of 2-stroke outboard exhaust or the soothing sounds of water gurgling against an aluminum hull is a bit depressing.
But on the bright side, a winter wonderland awaits. There’s no denying the thrill of tangling with aggressive first-ice walleyes, panfish and pike, not to mention bonus largemouth bass that often shadow schools of small bluegills in the abysmal gloom of offshore basins.
Already a few adventurous souls are slipping out on smaller first-freeze lakes across the northern half of the state. I’m waiting for a bit firmer footing, myself, but it won’t be long—at least on small waters. The bigger lakes often take a bit longer to succumb to winter’s cloak.
Yesterday, for example, I witnessed mighty Mille Lacs Lake fighting valiantly to stave off being fitted with its icy straightjacket. While Isle Bay was on lockdown, and a ring of ice crept outward from shore in many places, a howling northwest wind had the remaining mid-lake regions flush with angry, towering rollers worthy of the North Sea in a sinister mood.
Gazing across the eerie mix of fledgling ice and angry seas, I was reminded of a trip perhaps 15 years ago, when I joined my father and veteran guide Ron Anlauf for an early-December open-water outing on Mille Lacs. We reeled in a fine mix of walleyes and pike that day, without an ice floe in sight. Barring Divine intervention or a sudden resurgence of Global Warming, however, I have a feeling that upcoming adventures on this legendary walleye factory will shortly involve augers, not anchors.