Lessons learned from the 2012 ice fishing season

April 8, 2013

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

The 2012 ice fishing season is drawing to a close. For those of you who spend time on the ice, there are a few things we can learn from this year’s ice fishing season.

These are important lessons, life’s moments that will someday be the “I remember back during the winter of 2012” that will be ever etched in our minds.

So, from an avid ice fisherman and a conservation officer for more than 30 years, here are “Lessons learned from the 2012 ice fishing season.”

• Putting a fish house on the lake requires dedication

In Minnesota we enjoy the opportunity to put an ice fishing or spearing shelter on the lake.

The law allows us to leave it on the lake unattended.

To be clear, I’m not focusing on portable ice fishing tents or shelters that an angler sets up and takes home with them.

I’m focused on the ones that anglers put out and leave on the lake overnight.

In most cases, these are the houses that are constructed with building materials that are pulled out on a lake and are very comfortable to fish from.

If you have one of these, the 2012 season reinforced the point, that as a responsible ice angler you have to check your shelter regularly.

This winter we experienced exceptional early ice season conditions.

As the winter progressed abundant snowfall quickly changed the ice fishing landscape.

Travel conditions on the lake, as well as the weight of snow on the ice, created serious problems.

A good lesson is that you need to be checking your fish house daily and at a minimum weekly to stay on top of ice and snow conditions around your house to avoid problems. It’s the responsible thing to do.

• Ice anglers need to watch the weather

This sounds simple, but cannot be overstated.

If you’re going to make the investment and take time to put a fish house on a lake, you have to keep up on the weather reports; there is very little margin for error.

As this winter taught us, snowfalls can be unpredictable and if the lake you’re on gets 8 to 10 inches of snow things can change rapidly.

My advice is if you learn of a 3+ inch snowstorm headed your way, take immediate steps to quickly get your house off the lake or at least near shore.

The lesson learned is stay on top of the weather. Winter storms need to be respected.

• Heavy snow leads to flooding and slush

As ice fishermen we know that a little snow is welcome.

It helps us to bank our houses and soften the heating bill but too much snow is challenging.

That’s why after a recent snowfall, you need to check your fish house.

Snow can be heavy. As that snow sits on the ice, it forces the ice down and the water through ice or open ice fishing holes.

This is a common cause of fish house flooding.

If you have a fish house on the lake, you have to respect snow and check your fish house.

Wet snow/slush can also make travel to your fish house impossible.

That’s why I earlier recommended pulling your house to shore when you hear of a weather report calling for significant snowfall.

One day you can be getting around just fine, but with substantial snowfall travel can treacherous if not impossible.

The lesson to be learned is that you need to be respectful of wet heavy snow and slush.

The odds are in nature’s favor and you won’t beat them.

• It’s okay to pull your fish house off early/don’t wait until the deadline

This one is based on common sense and can’t be overstated.

As an ice fishermen if you’re not using your house, take it off the lake or at least move it toward the shoreline.

During my travels, it amazes me how many people will take the time and effort to put a house out, use it a couple of times and then leave it until the end of the season. This is a recipe for disaster.

This past winter I got calls from anglers who had houses out and explained that they couldn’t get them off the lake before the fish house deadline.

They said the lake was covered in snow and travel was impossible. In listening to their problems, I couldn’t help but ask, “When was the last time you checked on it?”

In most cases, I learn they haven’t been to it for a long time.

The lesson is to take your house off the lake if you don’t intend on using it. Don’t wait until the deadline.

• The fish house deadline is the deadline

I will be the first to admit this sounds hard and cruel, but to be honest, it’s an ice fishing reality.

As an ice fisherman you have to respect the deadline. It’s the law.

As we know, the deadline is not a secret and needs to be respected. It’s fair and allows us to enjoy a lengthy ice fishing season.

If you put a fish house on the lake and don’t remove it before the deadline, expect to be issued a citation.

Conservation officers are not authorized to allow you to violate the law, so when you call looking for an extension due to some unforeseen circumstance in getting your fish house off the lake, don’t be surprised when they tell you, “You need to get your house off the lake;” there are no exceptions. This is probably the most important lesson from the 2012 season.

• Public accesses are not public storage lots

Finally, when you get your fish house off the lake, finish the job. It’s illegal to leave a fish house on a public access.

As a responsible angler you need to do the right thing and take it with you.

Conservation officers will issue citations to any fish house owner that leaves their fish house on a public access.

Most of us have watched the movie “Grumpy Old Men” and recognize the film makers desire to capture the essence of Minnesota ice fishing and as we know it.

It’s a unique winter sport and a great winter past time.

It provides entertainment for Minnesotans and is engrained as a part of our winter heritage and culture.

I encourage anyone that takes time to put a fish house on Minnesota waters to take the decision to heart and recognize the essential obligations that go with this activity.

In closing, I will share the advice I got from a senior conservation officer many years ago.

The final lesson is this: If you have time to build a fish house, and if you have time to fish in it, you also have to make time to check on it, and when the season is over, make time to get your fish house off the lake.

Firearms safety classes in Winsted start today (Monday)

The Winsted Sportsmen’s Club will be offering firearms’ safety classes starting Monday, April 8.

The classes will run from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Blue Note in Winsted, and is for anyone 12 years old or older by Sept. 1, 2013. Adults are welcome.

The class will run for three weeks, and sign up at the first meeting April 8.

The cost is $10, with checks made payable to the Winsted Sportsmen’s Club. If you have questions, contact Steve Fiecke at (320) 485-2434 anytime after 4 p.m.

LP Sportsmen’s Club opens soon for trapshooting

Weather permitting, the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club will open the trapshooting season with practice shooting Wednesday, April 10. The league season then begins Wednesday, April 17.

For more information, call (320) 395-2258.

Ducks Unlimited banquet in Winsted April 15

The Crow River Chapter of Ducks Unlimited will have its banquet at the Blue Note in Winsted Monday, April 15 starting at 6 p.m.

There will be limited seating, so be sure to get your tickets sooner rather than later. The deadline is Friday, April 12.

This is a family-friendly event, with raffles and games for everyone.

For additional information or to order you tickets, contact (612) 875-8158.

US Fish and Wildlife service to host Habitat Day April 13 in Litchfield

The Litchfield Wetland Management District (District) of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will host “Habitat Day 2013” Saturday, April 13, from noon to 4:00 p.m. in Litchfield.

The event has a variety of offerings to those of all ages interested in wildlife and habitat of our area. The event is free-of-charge.

Spring is just around the corner and it won’t be long before wood ducks and bluebirds return to the area in search of nesting sites.

If you have good habitat areas for placing nest boxes for these species, free, pre-cut bird house kits will be available for assembly on site (one of each per family).

Robin nesting shelves, wren houses, and new this year, bird feeders will also be available while supplies last.

All necessary tools to assemble the houses will be provided.

USFWS staff and volunteers will be on hand to assist with construction.

Information will be provided on wood ducks and bluebirds and how best to place the nesting houses.

Design plans will be available to build these houses or feeders on your own.

Come build a house anytime between noon and 4 p.m.

Staff from the University of Minnesota, Raptor Center, St. Paul, MN will be on hand once again with live birds, including a bald eagle.

Meet some of Minnesota’s raptors or birds of prey in person and learn how their role in the environment is important to us all.

An hour-long program will start at 1:00 p.m.

Raptor Center education specialists will be available after the program to answer questions about the birds, with the birds available for viewing.

Coloring books, posters and an assortment of wildlife related materials and displays for kids “of all ages” will be available throughout the afternoon including a staff demonstration of prairie seed cleaning via use of a fanning mill.

Special guests at the event include the Wildlife Wizard who will quiz children and adults on wildlife and habitat of the area as well as the Crow River Organization of Water who will have a staffed booth.

No reservations are necessary but if you would like further information contact us by phone at (320) 693-2849 or by e-mail at litchfieldwetland@fws.gov.

MN state parks and trails offer a new season of outdoor ‘I Can!’ programs
From the DNR

Families will learn how to pitch a tent, hook a fish, paddle a kayak or canoe, scale a cliff and shoot a bow at nearly 200 “I Can!” programs offered this summer at Minnesota state parks and on state water trails.

The newly expanded “I Can!” series of outdoor programs are designed to introduce kids to camping, fishing, paddling, climbing and archery.

“We created the ‘I Can!’ series in response to research that showed declining participation in outdoor recreation by young families,” said Courtland Nelson, DNR Parks and Trails Division director. “These popular programs are designed to introduce the next generation to the outdoors.”

Since the series launched in 2010, thousands of people have been introduced to outdoor recreation and Minnesota state parks and trails.

Participation in “I Can Camp!” totaled 877 in 2012, up 51 percent from the 582 who participated the first year.

“I had to drag my kids there, and now they won’t stop exploring,” reported one father who participated in an “I Can Camp!” program. “We consider ourselves on our way to becoming veteran campers,” said a mother who attended the hands-on, learn-to-camp workshop.

All equipment is provided for the programs, along with mentoring from experienced instructors.

Some programs require advance registration and a fee; others are free and allow visitors to drop-in anytime.

A vehicle permit ($5/one-day or $25/year-round) is required to enter Minnesota state parks and recreation areas.

A one-day permit is included with registration for an “I Can Camp!” program.

I Can Camp!

Participants camp overnight and learn basic outdoor skills from an experienced “I Can Camp!” crew at this beginner-level program.

All camping equipment is provided (including tents, air mattresses and cook stoves).

Participants just bring their own food and bedding (sleeping bags or blankets and pillows). Advance registration is required.

• One-night workshops ($40 for up to six people) are scheduled on Saturdays from June 8 to Aug. 31.

• Two-night workshops ($60 for up to six people) will take place July 12-14, July 26-28, Aug. 2-4 and Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

I Can Fish!

Experienced anglers will offer hands-on instruction to first-timers and those who want a refresher at this free fishing program offered at state parks statewide.

All equipment and bait are provided, and no fishing license is necessary for Minnesota residents. Advance registration is not required.

I Can Paddle!

Learn paddling skills from experienced guides while exploring some of Minnesota’s most stunning lakes and rivers at programs designed for beginners.

Participants will learn how to launch a canoe or sea kayak safely, practice essential paddling strokes and more.

No experience or equipment is necessary. Canoes, sea kayaks, lifejackets and paddles are provided.

Advance registration is required. Three types of paddling experiences will be offered:

• On the Lake programs – These two-hour programs ($10 per canoe, with each canoe accommodating up to three people), perfect for beginners of all ages, will take place at various Minnesota state parks throughout the summer.

• On the River programs – In addition to the same basic skills included in the “On the Lake” programs, these programs ($25 per canoe, with each canoe accommodating up to three people) will cover how to read a river and river safety.

Programs will take place on state water trails (river routes mapped and managed for paddling). Participants must be age 8 or older.

• Sea Kayaking programs – These two-hour programs ($35 per person) will introduce participants to sea kayaking on the Lake Superior State Water Trail. Participants will learn all the basics of sea kayaking while gliding past towering cliffs and the Split Rock Lighthouse.

I Can Climb!

Certified professionals from Vertical Endeavors will teach basic climbing skills and help kids and other beginners scale real rocks at four premier state parks for rock climbing. Helmets, harnesses and other climbing and safety gear are provided.

Advance registration is required. Three types of climbing experiences will be offered:

• I Can Climb! – This 90-minute program ($5 per climber), designed for first-time climbers age 5 or older, will be offered at Blue Mounds State Park and Interstate State Park.

• I Can Climb! On the North Shore – This 90-minute program ($5 per climber), for participants age 10 or older, takes place at Tettegouche State Park. Climbers are safely lowered from the top of a cliff above Lake Superior and then climb back up. No experience is necessary.

• I Can Climb! Basic Belay and Safety – This program ($35 per participant), for participants age 14 or older, is designed for those who’ve tried one of the other two “I Can Climb!” programs and want to take their climbing skills to the next level.

It will focus on knot tying, belaying, climbing commands, rope management skills and more.

Archery in the Parks

Trained archery instructors will provide an introduction to archery, along with assistance in shooting a bow in a safe, supervised and supportive setting at these free programs.

No experience is necessary, and all equipment is provided.

Programs are scheduled statewide May through August.

Participants must be age 8 or older. Advance registration is not required.

For more information about any of the programs in the “I Can!” series, including program dates, times, locations and other information, visit www.mndnr.gov/ican (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/can_series.html) or call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Funding for the “I Can!” program series is from the Parks and Trails Fund, created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008.

The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25 percent of the sales tax revenue and may only be spent to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: When does the snowmobiling season end for riding on state grant-in-aid trails?

A: Grant-in-aid snowmobile trails officially close April 1, when permits with private landowners expire.

State trails remain open on public land while weather and snow conditions permit.

Even if snow conditions are good after April 1, the DNR reminds snowmobilers not to ride trails that traverse private land without the landowner’s permission. That would be trespassing.

Late season snowmobilers need to be aware of changing conditions, including bare spots, flowing water and exposed rocks.

Some gates may be closed on grant-in-aid trails.

As the temperatures rise, riding conditions are likely to deteriorate.

The DNR advises checking conditions before hitting the trails.

The statewide snow depth map and state trail conditions are updated by 2 p.m. every Thursday at www.mndnr.gov/snow.

For the most up-to-date trail conditions, contact the local trail administrator.

Contact information can be found online at www.mndnr.gov (www.dnr.state.mn.us/snowmobiling/trailcontacts.html) or by calling the DNR Information Center, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

The grant-in-aid trails are maintained by thousands of local snowmobile club volunteers who work throughout the year to ensure that trail corridors are maintained, permission for trail routes secured, signs installed, and trails groomed.

CO weekley reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) last week checked anglers.
CO Mies also assisted on wildlife damage calls.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) followed up on several TIP calls with concerns of an over limit of pan fish being taken.
CO Reller also prepared for the change of seasons and put the snowmobile in storage and readied ATV and watercraft for service.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) gave a firearms safety presentation to students in Waconia.
He investigated possible waters violations in Waconia and Watertown.
He issued permits for car killed deer and mink.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Metro Water Resource Enforcement Officer) followed up on a complaint about ATV operators causing damage to a wetland in Mound.
With CO Grewe, a public waters violation was investigated along the Mississippi River in Brooklyn Park.
She also dealt with fish house debris left on several lakes.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) monitored an area lake for illegal netting and taking of fish out of season.
Mueller attended swift water boat training on the Minnesota River with other COs.
She also attended a public wetland information meeting in Glencoe and spoke at a local Cub Scouts meeting.
Time was also spent investigating a TIP call regarding out of season goose hunting.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) attended a meeting on the Wetlands Conservation Act in Glencoe.
The meeting focused on informing landowners, farmers, contractors, and others on wetland laws in Minnesota.
Oberg followed up on a potential deer case in Green Isle.
Oberg also spoke at the Green Isle Sportsman’s Club firearms safety class.
Aeration inspections were also completed.