White Dawn: Welcome To The Ice Age

Ice is a way of life for those in the Northland, one can fight and hate it, or love it for what it means

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.

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