Last-minute ice out has Vermilion resort owners scrambling

Fraser Bay was still socked in on May 5 but has since been reported to be wide open. Aerial photos by Karl Reichel.

Fraser Bay was still socked in on May 5 but has since been reported to be wide open. Aerial photos by Karl Reichel.

LAKE VERMILION – Mother Nature has proven to be a fickle force to reckon with over the past few months. She gave us a long, cold winter that left even the most hardy of Minnesotans complaining. Dreams turned to wishes of warmer days and less snow, not to mention no more shoveling or plowing.

The “talk” over the past few weeks throughout communities that surround Lake Vermilion (and I’m sure others) has focused on whether or not the ice would be off the lake in time for the annual fishing opener, scheduled for Saturday, May 12.

A Saturday, May 5 flight over Lake Vermilion shows Pike Bay ice-free.

A Saturday, May 5 flight over Lake Vermilion shows Pike Bay ice-free.

It was the main topic of conversation at local restaurants, watering holes, grocery stores, and convenience stops. Most were skeptical, with just reason. Many were reporting drilling holes in the ice as few as three weeks ago and still coming up with measurements of over two feet or more of ice.

However, just as most had given in to the thought that the opener was not to be, Mother Nature flipped a switch and caused area resort and marina owners both glee and angst at the same time.

At Timbuktu Marina, boats are filling the slips and the navigational buoys are ready to be placed. Photo by Kirsten Reichel.

At Timbuktu Marina, boats are filling the slips and the navigational buoys are ready to be placed. Photo by Kirsten Reichel.

In the middle of the first week of May, black ice started to appear indicating it was melting. Temperatures warmed up enough to start getting rid of the ice rather than making more at night as we slept. It seemed the tide was turning.

Living in the Oak Narrows area of Lake Vermilion, we see open water sooner than the rest of the lake given the undercurrents that flow year-round in that area. The early taste of spring and the extreme quiet we experience for about a week or so is a real treat.

So, we had open water, but it made me wonder what the status was of the rest of the lake. As it became apparent late in the first week of May that the opener may just be a go, I started making some phone calls to local lake businesses to see how things were looking in their “front yard.”

Randy Kladivo of Shamrock Landing, located in Black Duck Bay, indicated that Greenwood Bay was half open and he was confident that the majority of the lake would be ice-free in time for opener.

They have been busy prepping boats for those who store them at the facility and figured they had at least 30 percent of their boats ready to go for when people call to have them put in the lake. While they still need docks put in, Randy acknowledged that the resorts most often take priority for the barging businesses that do dock and shore station work. Shamrock will be open and ready for business by the opener.

Next was a call to Steven Amundson, owner and fishing guide of Spring Bay Resort and Guide Service. The resort is located in the Head-of-the-Lakes area of Lake Vermilion which is on the far western tip of the lake. He, too, was confident that the lake would be open although followed that up with, “It’ll be close.”

At least 15 of their 26 cabins are full for opener, which is typical for this time of year. There was only one cancellation by a person that was concerned that ice conditions would be bad. While Steven is grateful that conditions have changed, it puts him in the position of having to scramble around to get the resort ready at the last minute.

“Not all the docks will be in,” he said. “And I will be guiding and launching boats in between trips so it is going to be a hectic time. Another factor is that we have the City Auto Glass Walleye Classic Tournament coming up on May 19 on Vermilion. Many anglers come several days ahead of time to pre-fish so even if opener is a little slower than usual, there will be many on the lake over the following week.”

While resort owners are happy to see the ice go, the almost instant change in conditions left them with only a narrow window of time to get cabins ready to go. Ice was not the only factor; the lingering snow banks made it difficult to access cabins for cleaning and preparing for guests.

This proved to be the case for Joe and Jenny Stanaway of Muskego Point Resort. Located in Wake-Em-Up Narrows, it is a lake-access resort. I was able to get in touch with Jenny on Sunday afternoon as she and Joe were taking a break from hooking up the water to all the cabins.

“I can’t believe how fast everything has happened in the past few days,” Jenny said. “Friday morning we walked across the ice to mainland while pushing and holding onto a boat for stability. Later that afternoon, we boated the whole way across back to the resort, that’s how fast it went out.”

Some of their cabins are full but opener isn’t usually as big a draw for them as is the rest of the summer.

“I would say that the biggest challenge this year for all resort owners on the lake is that some people may stay away with the uncertainty of whether or not the whole lake will be out.” Jenny continues, “As for us, we’ll be as ready as we can. There may be some dock pallets sitting on the beach but we want to make sure the ice is gone before we get the docks in to avoid ice damage. There have been some big pieces of ice floating through and they could easily take a dock out – not something we want to have happen.”

Ellen Trancheff, employee at Grubens Marina & Village and owner of Trancheff Cabins reported that, while the ice was out in their location, it still seemed to be pretty solid to the east of Isle of Pines. This report was as of Tuesday, May 8.

Grubens and Trancheffs are located on either side of the Isle of Pines bridge and both report that their cabins are full for the weekend. Grubens store is gearing up and will be open for business starting Friday, May 11, at 8 a.m. While we may not be thinking of ice cream at this point of the year, Ellen did mention that they are stocking the Grubens store this year with Cedar Crest ice cream – something to think about as our temperatures climb (hopefully) as we enter the summer months.

Further on down the lake, a call to Jay Schelde, owner of Pike Bay Lodge located on Pike Bay, confirmed that the bay was open in front of his place and the resort was fully booked.

“I’m behind this year on my resort prep work just because of the weather, but I’ll be as ready as I can when people start to arrive,” Jay said. “I plan to have the docks in very soon but can’t guarantee that all the boats will be ready. It’s just a mad dash at this point since none of us really knew what to expect this year with the ice conditions.”

Jay indicated that Big Bay usually opens up about a week after Pike Bay, but there was still a lot of ice in the largest bay on Vermilion. Jay has been kind in offering boat launching at Pike Bay Lodge to those who may not be able to do so at neighboring resorts.

Back in the so called “middle” of the lake in Oak Narrows is Timbuktu Marina. Their docking situation is in a better position than others I talked to since they have a permanent docking system so all docks stay in year round. They have already been getting boats in the water and many of the slips are full for those who plan to come up for the opener.

Dawn Bogdan, front desk manager at the marina, told me that they have had many calls regarding lake conditions but have had no cancellations at the handful of cabins they have as part of the marina business. She said, “The store will be open and we’ll be ready to go. We just know it’s going to be a crazy time with people wanting boats to be put in the water so we’ll just do the best we can.”

Timbuktu Marina also has the contract for placing the navigational and hazard buoys on Lake Vermilion, as well as Shagawa and Burntside Lakes in the Ely area. Timbuktu owner Matt Clines indicated that they plan to start getting the buoys placed on Vermilion starting this week in order to have as much of Vermilion marked as possible before the opener.

What a difference a day or two can make. Over two weeks ago, one would not have expected the opener to be, well, “the opener,” yet here we are just a handful of days away from May 12 and it seems as though all systems are go. The exceptionally warm weather early in the week followed by a day or so of rain really helped chew away the ice.

Now, after all the scuttlebutt, we can just hope that those hoping to snag a few fish are able to do so and enjoy their time on Lake Vermilion. Good luck!

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