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Ice cover on lakes statewide is quickly melting. Late season ice anglers should use extreme caution and travel foot, carefully avoiding areas with open water as shown in the photo. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Early ice-out is probable this year

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Ice conditions have rapidly declined over the past week and what should be prime time for ice anglers...still is. For today.

A week ago anglers were safely driving their full sized trucks across lakes in the northern third of Minnesota.

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This past week Cass County Sheriff's Deputies were stationed at various Leech Lake public accesses. The perch were biting in some key areas, but the Deputies weren't allowing vehicle travel. ATV or foot travel was permitted.

Gaps, cracks and previously drilled holes have expanded from water running across the ice surface. Water deteriorates ice quickly.

Try this experiment. Place an ice cube in the sink and trickle the coldest water you have available over the top. How long does it last?

When the snow melts, especially at such a rapid rate like we've experienced from the unseasonably warm weather this year, the water simply has to escape. And it finds any crevice, hole or low spot to do so.

Yet this creates a unique and desirable situation for fish as well. Since the seeping water is warm, carries tiny insects as it drains and increases oxygen levels, the fish begin to rise in the water column to enjoy the ideal environment. Humans do the same, positioning deck chairs on the sunny side of the property or choosing locations that have less wind to experience the beautiful recent weather.

The fish are active and though mainly crappie, bluegill and perch are the current targets, the fish are generally large and aggressive. Yet, risking your life for a meal of fish hardly seems worth it. Safety is imperative.

Vehicle travel would be a huge mistake. One bad spot on the ice could create severe consequences.

A local guide shared an interesting story with me this week. This week he decided it was time to pull the rental fish houses he had placed on Leech Lake, even though the date to remove shelters from Leech Lake arrives this coming Monday.

"There were a couple fish houses in the same area where I had mine and the owners posted signs on them stating that they'd be back this weekend."

Those owners may be faced with an unfortunate situation. Warm temperatures and wind will deplete ice thickness quickly.

Leech Lake's average ice-out date is April 27. The earliest Leech Lake has opened up was April 6, 2010 and the latest date for ice-out was May 23, 1950.

Could the 2012 ice-out occur earlier than ever?

And what does this mean for the fish? Will average spawning dates move weeks earlier? Will water temperatures climb to levels higher than usual?

Let's not forget about the food chain. Could spawning cycles for multiple species cross over? And will aquatic insect reproduction follow the same timetables as young-of-the-year fish development? Most importantly, will fishing be better, worse, or simply different?

These are probably questions that won't be answered until we experience the spring, summer, fall and winter of what is shaping up to be a very unique fishing season.

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