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Brainerd area lakes lose ice coverage earlier than normal

Local lakes that froze with winter have now become open water as earlier-than-expected ice-out conditions on many bodies of water means ice-free waters in plenty of time for the fishing opener.

Gull Lake seen from the Hole-in-the-Day Bay public access is ice free Thursday, April 8, 2021. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, local bodies of water are clear of ice about about two weeks earlier than normal. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Observant lake lovers have recently noticed something missing from Brainerd area lakes: ice.

Ice-out reports received this year by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources indicate local bodies of water are free of ice almost two weeks earlier than normal.

“We have an ice-out page on the DNR website where we take information from the public about lake observations and when ice-out is occurring,” said Cheri Zeppelin, a DNR regional information officer based out of Grand Rapids.

The median ice-out dates for most Crow Wing County lakes have averaged April 8 to April 28, according to Zeppelin, but most if not all area lakes are already free of the ice from winter.

Zeppelin said North Long, Round Lake, Gladstone Lake and White Sand Lake, for example, are just some of the Brainerd area lakes people have reported now as being “ice-free.”


Round Lake has records dating back to 1978. This year, it was reported ice-free on April 2. (Its median ice-out date is April 21.) And North Long Lake has records dating back to 1953. This year, it was reported ice-free on April 2. (Its median ice-out date is April 18.)

“What the map doesn’t show are lakes that still have ice, so it might be another week until we can make an accurate comparison at a county level. This map relies on observer reports from the public, so it is a good snapshot but not necessarily a census of all lakes,” Zeppelin said.

DNR crews manage 1,500 public water accesses and will install as many docks as possible at ice-free water bodies before the fishing opener later this year. The DNR ice-out webpage relies on reports from people that live on the lake who give the DNR updates about ice-out conditions.

“The DNR doesn’t actually have staff to go out and survey lakes. We can’t report on ice conditions either because there are just so many lakes,” Zeppelin said.

The definition of lake ice-out can vary from lake to lake. For the citizen observers reporting data, ice-out occurs when the lake is completely free of ice, it may be when it is possible to navigate, or it may also be when a lake is 90% free of ice. Observers use consistent criteria from year to year when reporting lake ice-out dates.

“This year, the lakes that have been reported by observers are showing ice-out dates March 25 to April 7 and are more in line with the earliest dates — about two weeks earlier than the historical median,” Zeppelin said.

The earliest ice-out dates for county lakes were in the range of March 25 to April 14, and the latest ice-out dates were in the range of April 29 to May 12, according to Zeppelin.

For a relatively simple-shaped lake like Gull Lake, ice-out means that the majority of the lake is ice-free. For a lake full of bays like Lake Minnetonka, ice-out is typically declared when a boat can navigate all portions of the lake, including passage through all channels between bays.


The annual fishing opener in the state has been hosted by various cities in May, and sometimes ice has remained on a lake and complicated organizers’ plans for the event.

“There has been in the past where sometimes that the ice, itself, hasn’t completely melted,” said Frank Soukup, director of marketing for Cote Family Destinations, which owns Grand View Lodge along Gull Lake in Nisswa.

The resort hosted the Governor’s Fishing Opener in 2014, and it almost seemed for a moment the annual event would not take place that year on Gull Lake, according to Soukup.

“We were really curious if we were even going to get the ice out because we were two weeks before and there was still plenty of ice on the lake, and we were fortunate enough that, about 10 days before, the ice had melted down and submerged,” Soukup said.

Ice-out dates occur later in the year the farther north you go, but those interested in a particular lake can visit the DNR webpage about ice-out dates at https://bit.ly/39UEO9B .

“This year, we’re not even going to have any problem with ice, I think, after the rain yesterday. Probably the last time I heard there was a big chunk floating over by Ernie’s (on Gull Lake), but, you know, I can’t see any from our shorelines,” Soukup said Thursday, April 8.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

Brandon Hehir tests a boat from Nisswa Marine Thursday, April 8, 2021, on the Gull Lake Narrows in Lake Shore. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, local bodies of water are ice free about two weeks earlier this year. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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