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Perch which spawn just after the ice melts from our lakes are a popular target in the late portion of the ice season. With the excessive snow this year, anglers have recently experienced some difficulty in reaching prime territory for perch, bluegill and crappie. (Jason Durham / For the Enterpriser)

Lakes benefit, suffer from snow

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By Jason Durham / For the Enterprise - The fish house removal date for our area has passed, which usually signifies the arrival of spring, gradually thinning ice and some fantastic angling for panfish.

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The problem this year is that the ice, let alone the snow, hasn’t made much movement toward thawing.

Our region undeniably experienced two consecutive winter seasons that sit on two separate ends of the weather spectrum.

Last year at this time our lakes were wide open. Ice fishing was over and boating season had begun.

But this year many of the local lakes have about 60” of snow and ice combined that must melt before we store our ice gear and begin launching boats.

A couple situations arise, both positive and negative, from 2013’s aggressive winter and late spring.

First, since the heavy snow has impeded the sun’s penetration into the underwater environment, not to mention the extended period of time in which the ice will be on the lakes, oxygen levels could reach a critical point on certain shallow lakes.

Park Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor Doug Kingsley comments that, “Lakes experience a decline in oxygen levels primarily due to decomposing bottom matter.” On lakes that are shallow and fertile, this can adversely affect the fish, sometimes even causing a partial die-off.

The DNR has been tracking some of the most susceptible lakes amidst our current winter conditions and Moran and Peysenske in Hubbard County and Stocking Lake in Wadena County are water bodies that have the lowest oxygen levels. Portage Lake has low oxygen levels yet not to the same degree as the other lakes.

Another factor to consider is how rapidly the snow could potentially melt. The later we get into spring, the greater chance that temperatures cause a very quick thaw.

Though that sounds ideal to those who have persistent cabin fever, an accelerated thaw can cause more nutrients and chemicals from run-off to enter our lakes.

Homeowners also need to be mindful of a speedy thaw, since the water generated has to go somewhere. And if the ground is still frozen, the soil can’t easily absorb the run-off. This means your lawn, driveway, garage and home could be damaged by excessive run-off.

Ice anglers should also be very careful if the snow melts fast. Again, that water, powered by the force of gravity, will find a route to travel, so even a very small crack or hole in the ice can expand exponentially over a span of several hours.

Many people have commented that “we sure do need this extra moisture.” This is very true and the excess snow this year will help. Yet a slow, methodical spring thaw will benefit the soil and the lakes.

As for the DNR, a harsh winter does has a positive side. “The current conditions offer thorough winter-kill on our rearing ponds, which eliminates some of the undesirable species,” says Kingsley.

That equates to better survival for the future growth of species like walleye and muskie which are eventually stocked into the larger lakes.

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