Steve Krasaway figures that fishing off his dock this weekend could be kind of like going wading.
“The biggest thing this year is you might need rubber boots to fish in the evening,” Krasaway, of Vermilion Walleye Hunter Guide Service LLC on the Tower end of Lake Vermilion said. “I fish every evening off my dock and I might have to wear boots. I've never seen the water this high in 42 years. My dock will be underwater on the opener.”
High water levels on many northeastern Minnesota lakes is making the 2022 fishing opener look a lot different than past openers, according to some area fishing guides and resort owners.
“A combination of the high water levels and the late ice out will make things difficult and challenging,” Krasaway said. “And they say we have several more days of increasing water levels ahead before it starts to go down.”
Water levels in northeastern Minnesota lakes are a far cry from six months ago at the end of a summer-long drought that dropped lakes to extremely low levels.
Real-time data collected by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shows flood stage levels on lakes within the Rainy River, Vermilion, and Little Fork watersheds within northeastern Minnesota, Kimberly Boland, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Area Hydrologist in Eveleth said.
“Right now, it's a roller coaster from last fall when we were in a drought, to this,” Boland said. “With all the snow we had, we're just going to have to wait for the water to get out of the system.”
At Spring Bay Resort on the Cook end of Lake Vermilion, four docks have been damaged by ice, co-owner Steve Amundson said.
“It's the highest I've ever seen in my life and we have more (rain) coming,” Amundson said of the water level. “We have all our docks strapped down. It will be detrimental to everyone's dock. I know a guy around the corner whose dock is eight feet up in his yard. He has a platform on the dock and the wind and ice just pushed it up there.”
On Pelican Lake at Orr, the lake is at record levels, John Metsa, owner of Grey Wolf Lodge and Pelican Lake Resort at Norway Point said.
“Some people say it's the highest they've ever seen,” Metsa said. “There's considerable ice damage to docks and boathouses at many properties. If it would have been not so windy, it would have been okay.”
The ice, coupled with wind, resulted in significant damage to docks at both of his resorts, Metsa said.
“We're just lucky the opener is late this year,” Metsa said. “Bookings are still sold out.”
Lake Kabetogama is also experiencing high water levels, Borland said.
At least one Lake Kabetogama resort was at mid-week using water filled-barrels to hold docks down.
At Elephant Lake northeast of Orr, the lake level is so high that it's flooded about 700 feet of road leading to a public landing, Borland said.
Melt from a winter of heavy snow, thawing thick lake ice, and recent rains, are causing the high water levels.
Rainfall is also running off frozen ground into creeks and lakes instead of soaking into the ground.
Water is still on the rise, say some.
In a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, water on the massive Big Bay at Lake Vermilion rose one inch, Krasaway said.
High water means easier boat launching.
It also means fewer boat motor lower units damaged from striking rocks.
However, when it comes to fishing, some strategy will be needed, Krasaway said.
“The spawn in the main lake hasn't even begun yet,” Krasaway said. “Fishing will probably be slower in the day and pick up at night. On these late openers, they go to 30 to 35 feet deep during the day and then they go into the shallows in the evening to spawn.”
Narrow areas where water is flowing could also be hot spots, he said.
“I think there will be more current in spots,” Krasaway said. “With more water flowing into the lake, there will be more current in the neck-down areas, so that will make fishing better in those areas. And as soon as the water gets up to 50 degrees, it will get better.”
Mike Lorenz of Gravel Lizard Guide Service on Lake Vermilion, said shoreline structures have taken a beating from wind-blown ice.
“Anybody who fixes docks is going to be very busy,” Lorenz said. “There's a lot of damage out there.”
But Lorenz expects fishing to be very good.
“With the spawn being late, I think the majority of fish will be shallow,” Lorenz said. “The warmer water seems to attract the walleye. Even if you can find a place that's two or three degrees warmer, it can make a difference.”
Areas near creeks can also be good spots, Lorenz said.
“With the water being high, the creeks can run warmer water,” Lorenz said. “As a general rule, where there's an inlet coming into the lake that's where your warmer water is going to be and also in south facing bays.”
Jarek Wujkowski of RodsBent Guide Service on Lake Vermilion, said every dock he's seen is underwater.
He also expects fishing to be excellent.
“The walleye fish, I think, is going to be spectacular,” Wujkowski said. “With the late ice out, the females have been burdened up with keeping their eggs about a week longer than usual and are dropping them in the shallows. I think you will find a lot of males in the shallows in the evening.”
Last summer, boaters were hitting propellers and lower units on rocks, even between navigational buoys, he said.
This spring, Wujkowski said he expects boating and fishing to be phenomenal.
“I think it's going to be a great year,” Wujkowski said. “With the high water, I think it's going to go smoothly.”
Matt Hennen, DNR Large Lake Biologist at Lake Vermilion, says high water levels shouldn't have a major impact on fishing success.
The 2018 class of walleye hatched in Lake Vermilion was a solid recruitment class with a good survival rate, Hennen said.
That, he says, translates into a lot of 13 to 20-inch fish this year.
“I think the population is in good shape,” Hennen said. “Like I've told others, this is the good old days. This is as good as it gets.”
A shortage of live bait has also emerged due to the late ice out and high water.
“A lot of people don't have bait in their traps,” Amundson said. “The creeks are high.”
Overall, anglers and visitors will find northeastern Minnesota lakes looking far different than last summer.
“When we iced up last year, it was the lowest I've ever seen it,” Amundson said. “Now, it's the highest it's ever been. It's a tough start to the season, but everybody is still coming.”