Frozen turnout for trout opener
by Parker Loew
Thin ice and frigid weather conditions hindered many from participating in the 2024 outside-of-BWCAW trout opener last weekend.
Fishermen who braved the -25 degree windchill were rewarded with mixed results, depending on what lake they went to.
“We had two bites,” said Tim Daun of Minneapolis who fished Burntside Lake for opener. “We’ve been throwing all sorts of stuff at them all morning too.”
Daun and his extended family have fished trout opener at Burntside for a few years and said that this is the lowest number of ice fishermen they have seen.
There were around seven ice fishing tents visible from the boat launch on Van Vac Road.
“Not a lot of people out,” said Daun. “This is the fewest people I’ve ever seen since we have started coming up here.”
One of the reasons for the low turnout on Burntside this year was the thin ice. Parts of the lake still had open water on it as late as Jan. 3.
Daun and his party weren’t worried about the thin ice and took the proper precautions to ensure safety.
“We checked it as we went with our auger. It was around six inches where we checked,” said Daun. “You wouldn’t want to take a truck out here but it’s fine for walking.”
While Daun and his party got skunked, one party was able to get a lake trout through their hole.
“He’s about 17 inches,” said Zach Preston of Winsted, MN, who came up with his friend Owen Garriga. “Got him on a little gliding Rapala, just jigging it off the bottom.”
This was their first time coming up to Ely for the trout opener and they said the thin ice didn’t worry them.
“We knew it was thin,” said Preston. “We figured we’d come here and check it out. We used ice picks and spud bars to test it on the way out. It’s around five inches thick so fine for walking.”
Preston and Garriga had been fishing since 9 a.m. and planned on camping out on the ice and resuming their quest for Lakers in the morning.
Heading east to Miners Lake, a.k.a. the “food shelf,” fishermen had more luck catching rainbows and even had brown trout or two sprinkled into the mix here and there.
Zach Wollak and Josh Leiran from Eagan Minnesota both caught their limit of rainbows on Miners Lake in around five hours of fishing, with their biggest being around 18 inches.
“We’ve had better years, but we are not complaining,” said Wollak. “We are using waxworms and little jigs. We are in 65 feet of water but catching them around five to 15 feet. They’re pretty high up right now.
Wollak said they were giving the jigs some action, but mostly letting them sit still in the water.
“They seem to be a little finicky right now,” he said. “Honestly, the less we do, the more they seem to like it.”
Wollak says his family has been coming up to Ely for the last seven years to fish opener, and they don’t plan on stopping.
Other parties on Miners were having just as much luck as Wollak, including Greg Mikkelson from Prior Lake, who has been coming to Ely for opener for the last 20 years.
Mikkelson had caught around four keepers and a few smaller rainbow trout up until that point, including a rarer brown trout which measured 17 inches.
“The fish are around 10 feet down right now and taking wax worms,” said Mikkelson. “That’s the first brown trout I’ve ever caught out here. There are not very many.”
He measured the ice at around 8 inches deep where he was fishing near the middle of the lake.
Heading further east to Tofte Lake, there were around 15 tents on the ice, and success was somewhere between Burntside and Miners.
Many people who wished to remain nameless had gotten “one or two” trout.
A party of two who were drilling their holes in the ice as the sun set had just fished Snowbank and got skunked.
They estimated the ice was around eight inches on Tofte and around 11 inches out at Snowbank.
Leslie and Dan Gorski, from Barnum, MN, had been fishing Tofte for roughly two hours and hadn’t had a bite up until that point.
“We are using little spoons that are tipped with corn and wax worms. No bites yet though,” said Dan Gorski.
The Gorskis chose Tofte over lakes such as Burntside or Snowbank as their probability of catching fish at Tofte is much higher due to the lake being heavily stocked.
They also chose Tofte because the ice was thicker.
“We were a little bit concerned about the ice quality this year, so we went to a smaller lake, which is more likely to have good ice,” said Dan Gorski.
While the number of tents at Tofte Lake was higher than other lakes, it was still low relative to other years.
“We typically see a lot more snowmobilers and ice fishermen coming up,” said executive director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce Eva Sebesta. ”Across the board, it’s been slower this year because of weather.”
While many Ely businesses haven’t seen the usual amount of winter customers because of the weather, Sebesta said that there is reason to be hopeful for the rest of the season.
“Winter tourism season was definitely off to a slow start but hopefully we’ll get a good amount of snow coming up here in the next few weeks that will add to the snowpack we have gotten,” she said.