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Cousins Hector Rivera and Christian Rivera are among the few to brave a five-degree wind chill Tuesday to fish on Foot Lake near the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds in Willmar. By 5 p.m. the two had caught one perch. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

See-saw weather didn't help ice fishing this winter

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See-saw weather didn't help ice fishing this winter
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Get out while you still can!

The unpredictable weather has put some crimps on ice anglers this winter, and now Father Time and Mother Nature will join forces to end another season of drilling holes and tipping poles.


Feb. 28, a week from Sunday, is the final day of the northern pike, walleye and bass fishing seasons. Though not a huge deadline by now -- the larger fish stopped biting a few weeks ago -- it leaves panfish as the only fish to go after.

March 1 all ice fishing shelters must be removed from area waterways by midnight. Shelters can be remain on the ice if occupied, but all others must be taken off.

The season has had a lot of ups and downs. The weather has played a big part in it, according to Bruce Gilbertson, the fisheries manager at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' office in Spicer.

"It's been an interesting year without a doubt, with the ice-up and the significant snows early," he said. "Then we got flooding, which kept a lot of people off with larger vehicles and trailers off."

Once people could get larger vehicles or structures on the ice, it was near the end of the walleye bite.

At least our area wasn't the only one with that problem.

"I've spoken with people in portions of the state and they see the same things," Gilbertson said. "I talked with a person in Duluth who said it was the worst fishing he'd seen there in 50 years."

The abundance of snow has helped in one respect. The insulating layer helped shallower lakes avoid the dreaded, but sometimes necessary, winterkill.

Gilbertson said the shallow wetlands which don't have permanent fish populations will more times than not freeze over, but that small lakes in the immediate area fared really well.

"Locally for lakes, we haven't had any winterkill," he said.

"We have worked with Kandiyohi County on Lake Elizabeth and set up aerators there. Most are bubbler system and need to be turned on early in the winter and needs to be kept on all the time."

Lake Elizabeth, which is south of Atwater on County Road 2, had a partial winterkill in 2001, which Gilbertson didn't affect the fish population.

The aerator system the DNR put at Elizabeth is a little different than the one on Foot Lake. These aerators are more like the "propeller on an outboard motor."

It's set at an angle and pointed in a certain direction. There are two units parallel to each other. They mix the upper parts of the water where the oxygen level is higher," Gilbertson said.

The other benefit is that these aerators don't have to be turned on before the winter season starts.

Early spring forecast: wet

October rains helped keep a lot of smaller basins saturated and able to withstand the winter freeze without a lot of winterkill, Gilbertson said.

But the heavy December and February snows don't bode well for this spring.

"This spring, I expect we will see the higher water levels that we have had for a number of years," he said. "We could have some significant flooding and have some fish movement in the area. They could re-establish themselves in some of these basins."

Which, depending on what fish species migrate, could be a good or a not-so-good thing.