GRANO It is pretty hard to keep eager ice fishermen off the ice, especially following a few years when getting onto the ice was all but impossible due to deep snow. When the fish are biting it is better yet and the fishing has been pretty good so far this winter at Lake Darling.
Precautions need to be taken though because there is a large expanse of open water near the Grano bridge, far more than usual for this time of year. There's open water elsewhere on the lake, too, meaning proper precaution is necessary. Veteran ice fishermen take note of the situation and do their best to stay clear of obvious trouble. The lure is the hopes of encountering cooperative fish -- perch, walleyes and northern pike.
"It was actually pretty good about three weeks ago for perch and then tapered down quite a bit," said Alvin Schneider, Minot, this past Wednesday at the Grano crossing. "You can tell by the amount of people up here, a lot less."
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - A darkhouse spearfisherman prepares for some time on the ice at Lake Darling. Note the thickness of the ice chunk beside him.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Pulling northern pike from open water on the Souris River in December may be a rarity, but it suits Alex DesRoches, Minot, just fine. DesRoches was fishing below Lake Darling Dam.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - Gordon Stein, Des Lacs, holds a pair of walleyes caught from open water on the Souris River this past week.
While some ice fishermen may have stayed home because of a waning bite, others may have done so because they were wary of ice conditions. Without any sub-zero temperatures to make ice, the ice pack at Lake Darling has not been on the increase.
"I've never seen it this way this time of year. Let's put it that way," Schneider said. "The ice is about a foot thick. When you get close to that open water it might thin out a bit."
A few moments later Schneider was pulling his icehouse onto Lake Darling, staying a respectful distance from open water. He said he was hoping to entice some perch into biting. Fishermen in the Grano area experienced a flurry of perch activity lately with some "pounders" being reported.
Several fishermen using tip-ups had northern pike lying on the ice this past week. There were reports of some walleyes being caught, too, but that action appears to be for limited amounts of time. Some say the perch bite has been better in the early morning hours. Northern pike seem to be cooperating almost any time of the day.
While ice fishermen certainly enjoy catching fish, many are satisfied with getting onto the ice and relieving winter doldrums. Recently the weather has been warm enough that an ice shelter has not been necessary. Some put them to use though, preferring to enjoy propane heat and fish in shirtsleeves.
Open water option
For those in the Minot region who prefer fishing open water in wintertime, the choices have been limited to the warm waters of power-plant fed Nelson Lake and the Garrison Dam Tailrace. There's another choice this year though, on the Souris River.
Releases from Lake Darling Dam, coupled with warmer than usual temperatures, has resulted in open water at the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge picnic area. Fisherman have been doing well there, too, casting into stretches of the river where portable ice shelters were once common.
"It's great. You can't beat it. It's 35 to 40 above and we're catching a few walleyes and northerns. It's nice," said Gordon Stein, Des Lacs.
Stein was fishing the picnic area this past week. It was his 23rd straight day of fishing. He also has an ice house on the upper end of Lake Darling.
"It's too nice to sit in the house. When the fishing is good you may as well take advantage of it," Stein said. "Years ago I used to come up here a lot with my dad."
Alvin Schneider was walking up and down the river bank, fishing rod in hand, this past Wednesday. He was choosing his spots to make casts into open water. Schneider wasn't dressed for a winter day in North Dakota. Then again, he didn't need to be. It was a remarkably warm and calm day.
"I came home to see my mom for Christmas. I grew up in Minot but live in Mesa, Ariz., now. I'm out here without gloves, so that's not too bad. I was thinking it might be more like 20 below," Schneider said, laughing.
The water was quite clear for the Souris, especially near the river bank where an occasional fish could be seen cruising the shoreline. Sometimes several could be seen together.
"I've caught five or six, all northerns. No walleyes yet," Schneider said. "Everybody else I know is at work."
Schneider was fishing with a small jig tipped with yellow Gulp and a live minnow. The combination seemed to be working well, resulting in multiple dips with bare fingers into the cold water of a minnow bucket. It was a small discomfort in an otherwise excellent wintertime outing.
Farther down the bank Alex DesRoches of Minot was enjoying good success, too. One of the northern pike he caught was spotted in shallow water next to the shore. DesRoches dangled a jig and minnow in front of it. A sudden surge by the pike resulted in a solid hook set, a cheer from those watching and another fish pulled from the water.
"I saw another jig in that fish's mouth," DesRoches said. "I wanted to see if it was mine."
It wasn't, but DesRoches removed the jig and added it to his others. It was only fair. DesRoches had lost several jigs to pike before adding a small wire leader to his presentation to counter the sharp teeth of the pike.
"I definitely wanted to take advantage of open water," DesRoches said. "There's been a lot of northerns and a walleye now and then. I wouldn't be anywhere else today. I love fishing."