As most Minnesota residents know, the one thing you can be certain of each winter is the uncertainty of what will happen. Some years bring heavy snow fall, others bring days of bitter cold. For people looking to ice fish, these changing conditions can make the sport quite tricky.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Grand Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor David Weitzel was asked if he had experienced less than ideal ice conditions this year.

“Yes. Several heavy snowfalls occurred while ice was forming,” said Weitzel. “The weight of the snow causes the ice to sink, forcing water to the surface. The water forms deep slush. The snow above the slush acts as an insulator, slowing ice formation.”

Weitzel explained the heavy snowfall can affect fish populations, particularly in shallow lakes.

“The biggest impacts are on shallow lakes that are generally less than 20-feet deep. As the snow depth increases, sunlight is cut off and plants die,” Weitzel stated. “These plants go from producing oxygen to consuming oxygen as they decay. Over enough time, oxygen levels can get low enough to cause a winter kill of fish.”

Deeper lakes can also be impacted. While sufficient oxygen levels are available, fish can become less active as oxygen levels decrease, according to Weitzel. He added that these effects can be seen by anglers as fish become less active while they wait for conditions for feeding to improve. Furthermore, different amounts of light are preferred by certain fish. More or less snow cover can change the fish population’s activity. However, while anglers may be disappointed in the fishing conditions, this slow-down can give fish the time needed to recover.

“Poor ice conditions generally result in less fishing pressure and harvest. Less opportunities are not desirable for anglers but can help the fish population, because less harvest contributes to improved size quality for many species,” Weitzel said.

Although winters in Minnesota are highly variable, ice conditions can vary greatly across the state. Weitzel noted that typically there is somewhere in the state anglers can go to if they are able to travel. He added that recent reports have suggested ice conditions are improving. This has allowed people to go out on the ice on ATVS or on foot in many places.

It is important to remember that ice can never be 100% safe. Checking ice conditions ensures a safe experience. Weitzel mentioned local bait stores and resorts are some of the best places to get daily reports on ice ice conditions.

Although this year may not be the best year for ice fishing, there are still many days left for ice fishing. Plus, anglers can always look forward to open waters.

“Reduced harvest in the winter could mean that more fish will be available come spring so yes, folks can look forward to open water,” Weitzel said.

For information about ice safety, visit https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice/travel.html

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