By some measurements, this winter seems like one that just doesn't want to end for Northern Minnesota. While it wasn't aggressively cold, the record-breaking amount of snow and lingering cold temperatures are making it seem like spring is quite late to arrive.

Even with that brief taste of summerlike temperatures at the beginning of April, additional snow, ice, and below-average temperatures seem to have put a halt on the arrival of springtime for the region.

With May just a matter of days away and the 2023 Minnesota Fishing Opener just a couple of weeks away, many Minnesota outdoor enthusiasts are starting to wonder if this late arrival of consistent "normal" spring temperatures will have an impact on this year's opener.

What Minnesota lakes have already seen ice-out this spring?

Unsurprisingly, much of southern Minnesota has seen ice-out already. The southern portions of the state have seen slightly warmer conditions and did get (relatively) less snow than parts of Northern Minnesota, though that part of the state did still get plenty.

Those factors have allowed for many lakes in the southern third of the state to open up earlier this month.

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While a couple of lakes the Minnesota DNR monitors for ice-out conditions saw ice-out as early as the first week of April, most lakes in the Twin Cities area and places to the south reported ice-out between April 8-14, with some lakes as far north as St. Cloud and Cambridge reporting ice-out last week.

Minnesota DNR
Minnesota DNR

When could Northern Minnesota see ice-out this year?

While the melting process got a good jump-start with a few days of summerlike heat earlier this month, a decent amount of ice remains on Northern Minnesota lakes. The Duluth News Tribune talked to Minnesota Sea Grant director John Downing about this season's ice conditions to get a sense of if we could see ice-out before the opener.

In the article, Downing explained that he and his team developed a "widget" to offer a prediction of roughly when ice-in and ice-out conditions could be expected in various places, regionalized by local airports around the state.

Using the data used to develop this widget, Downing said he expects many of Minnesota's lakes to be ice-free by the time Minnesota's fishing opener rolls around on May 13, but sees a possibility some lakes might not achieve that feat over the next few weeks.

Thanks to the brief heatwave earlier in April, we will see an earlier ice-out than we might have otherwise seen, but this year is still expected to be a late ice-out compared to normal.

The culprits include the large amount of snow that needed to melt before ice melting could really get underway, and the generally cooler-than-average spring we've seen so far.

That trend is expected to continue into the first week of May, with temperatures in the Duluth area remaining mostly in the 40s. This stands considerably below the mid-50s that the area should see for daytime highs this time of year.

Despite all of that, Downing told the Duluth News Tribune on Friday of last week that his models point to many inland Northern Minnesota lakes seeing ice-out "May 6-8, plus or minus about five days for uncertainty due to weather."

With the expected cool weather ahead, I would guess that this will push his models to the later side of that forecast, which puts things at May 11-13 for many Northland lakes. That's right around the time of Minnesota's fishing opener.

A report from over the weekend in the Cotton area included several inches of ice, even up to shore, where ice usually melts first. While there is a sizable amount of ice in terms of thickness, much of the ice across the region is or has become "rotten".

This ice, while pretty thick in many places, it can be quite unstable and dangerous, even on foot. The Minnesota DNR explains in the post below.

When does Northern Minnesota normally see ice-out conditions?

Northern Minnesota lakes traditionally see the latest ice-out around the state due to being further north and experiencing cooler weather and/or additional snow to melt that can influence ice-out.

According to the DNR, here are the region-by-region average ice-out timeframes:

  • Cook County: April 29-May 10
  • Lake County: April 25-May 2
  • Northern St. Louis County: April 29-May 5
  • Southern St. Louis County: April 22-28
  • Carlton County: April 15-21
  • Aitkin County: April 15-21
  • Itasca County: April 15-28
Minnesota DNR
Minnesota DNR

For some of the region's most popular lakes, here is a list of average ice-out:

  • Cass - April 21
  • Island Lake - April 22
  • Mille Lacs - April 25
  • Winnibigoshish - April 27
  • Leech - April 28
  • Vermilion - April 30

What are the latest ice-outs for Northern Minnesota lakes?

While it is hard to say if things will push past previously-recorded record-setting late ice-out dates, some lakes may be close this year. Just probably (hopefully) not as late as some of the extremely late records captured.

A number of Northern Minnesota lakes have seen ice out as late as around May 23, but the latest recorded ice-out the DNR has on record was on Gunflint Lake in far Northern Minnesota. Ice-out was recorded on June 3 in 1936. Yes, June!

Some notable latest-recorded ice-out dates on lakes around Northern Minnesota include:

  • Mille Lacs - May 16, 2013
  • Red - May 17, 1996
  • Winnibigoshish - May 17, 2013
  • Sea Gull - May 18, 2014
  • Kabetogama - May 18, 1996
  • Devil Track - May 20, 2014
  • Moosehead - May 21, 2022
  • Lake of the Woods - May 21, 2014
  • Burntside - May 22, 1950
  • Leech - May 23, 1950
  • Vermilion - May 23, 1950
  • Greenwood - May 24, 2014
  • Gunflint - June 3, 1936

Whenever the ice goes out on Northern Minnesota lakes, the next question will be how this late ice-out will impact fishing. Colder water will likely influence the bite, placing fish "behind schedule" or off their normal routines for springtime.

Good luck to anglers when they are able to get out on lakes, and remember that early-season open water can be very cold. Being sure to wear a life preserver can help keep you alive if you fall into the water, as the shock of falling into cold water can quickly stun and overtake even the best of swimmers.

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