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Fishing opener could be memorable

The Fishhook River is flowing, but it was unofficially reported that as of last weekend more than 30 inches of ice remained on Fishhook Lake. (Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise)

The long winter and thick ice could make the May 12 fishing opener a case of déjà vu, when Park Rapids hosted the Governor's Fishing Opener and visitors arrived to find most lakes frozen.

Doug Kingsley, Park Rapids area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said this winter is similar to the winter of 2013 in many ways.

"For starters, there isn't a single lake in the state that I'm aware of that is ice free," he said Monday.

Kingsley said ice thickness on area lakes will vary between lakes and within individual lakes depending on currents, so when the ice will come off any given lake is anyone's guess. Snow depth on top of the ice is another factor that slows ice out.

"There are places that I believe still have close to three feet of ice," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we actually added some ice the last week or two. We've had some pretty chilly temperatures, certainly below freezing, and while the sun has been good enough to melt some of the snow, it really isn't melting the ice on the lakes yet."

Smaller, shallower lakes generally ice out first, but not always. "It can be influenced to by moving water through them, so lakes that have streams moving through them will open up in those areas sooner," he said.

Back in 2013, Kingsley said some of the lakes that were able to be fished were the east end of Belle Taine and Two Inlets.

"The cold spell in the Park Rapids area from March 29 through April 10 had a lasting impact on spring snowmelt and ice thawing," said Brittany Peterson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

During that time cold spell, .53 inches of liquid precipitation fell after several strong systems pushed through the northern plains.

"That brought significant snow accumulations to an area that had been quite dry and snow-free most of the winter," she said. "This late-season snow accumulation, combined with temperatures colder than typical values, have made for a very slow snowmelt and ice thaw this spring."

Butch De La Hunt, director of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber, said he served on the media committee for the Governor's Fishing Opener in 2013 and also sees similarities between that winter and this one.

"The Fishhook River had opened through the city so anyone who wanted to go out and wet their line could do it in the river," he said. "There were other places where the mouths were open in Island Lake and some of the other lakes, and those are probably going to be hot spots for this year's opener as well. The Crow Wing rivers also open up pretty quick, but someone sitting in the heart of Fishhook Lake didn't happen in 2013, and I don't think you'll see that opportunity this year, but it could change. It's hard to say. If we get rain, it could go very quick."

De La Hunt said about 10 weeks ago he heard there were roughly 28 inches of ice on Fishhook. "I had a report Sunday that some people are seeing 33 inches on Fishhook," he said. "That's unofficial, of course. I went snowmobiling on Long Lake Sunday night and didn't see any open water anywhere. A lot of the shorelines aren't even open. Usually, the ice starts to pull away from the shore and that's not even happening."

He said, at this point, no location in the state has open water, so that evens the playing field. According to the Willmar Tribune, Green Lake, where this year's Governor's Fishing Opener is planned, had 25 inches of ice on April 16 and were digging out from a over a foot of snow dumped by the April blizzard. Their latest recorded ice out date is May 8.

De La Hunt said he hopes people will come to the Park Rapids area for the opener regardless of the weather.

"For a lot of these people, it's tradition," he said. "They've been doing it year in and year out. I suspect they will still come. There will be some open areas and it could be pretty hot fishing because the fish are going to congregate in those bodies of water. We'll have to see how quickly it warms up."

Even if it is a cold opener, De La Hunt said there are still plenty of things for visitors to do. "There's good shopping, some fabulous restaurants where you can hang out and have a great time and local entertainment," he said. "People can enjoy each other's company and just spend time together. It's like the 2013 opener. Everybody says 'Remember when we went to Park Rapids and the ice was on the lake and we couldn't fish?' It will be the same thing: 'Remember 2018.' It will be memories they create."