A Little History...
Spring fishing in BWCA lakes and rivers is a good time to land a trophy pike or walleye.
The definitive sign of spring is when the ice goes off the lake. In late March or early April, locals start to watch for the beginning signs of the ice breakup. The first sign of the spring melt is the lifting of the ice. This means that fine cracks appear near the shore all the way around the ice. The ice will break free from shore and the entire sheet of ice will float on the water.
As the ice floats on water, the surface drains of any standing water. The sun starts to melt the surface ice a little each day. Moving water at creeks and rivers further erodes the strength of the ice. Soon the ice appears gray in patches. Each morning the ice is still white but by afternoon it is gray again. With more warm days, the ice gets grayer and grayer, and then black.
During these melting days travel on the ice is very dangerous. When ice thaws, it is called honeycomb ice. Even though it is thick, it is not strong because little pockets of air and water have formed throughout. The thinner blue ice of fall is much stronger and safer than honeycomb ice. Also, this melting spring ice can be perfectly safe where you are standing, but take a step away and the ice doesn’t support you. So as soon as the ice starts turning gray, it is best to stay off.
When the ice actually leaves a given lake is determined by factors such a temperature, lake depth, lake size and wind direction. Don Brazell, longtime Gunflint Trail mailman, came up with the closest system for predicting ice out. He said, “When the South Brule flows under the bridge, the beaver ponds will be open the next week, the small lakes will clear the week after and the big lakes the week after that.”
By late April the Cross River is flowing into Gunflint. The water pouring in gradually eats away at the ice in the west bay. Changing winds push the ice against one shore or another, eating away more ice. The small bays melt out but the main lake remains full of shifting ice. Finally the day comes when a steady northwest wind blows. In one day, two at most, this northwest wind will blow all the ice down the lake and up on the eastern shore. Once on shore, it melts immediately. Suddenly it’s time to start thinking about fishing again.