The walleye are waiting for winter's end, too
It may feel like it now but, odds are, the Iowa Great Lakes Walleye Weekend won't be an ice fishing competition.
DNR fisheries biologist Mike Hawkins said Big Spirit Lake and West Lake Okoboji had an ice-out date of April 28 back in 1951 — and the area could be "knocking at the door" of a record in 2018. The chilly conditions could impact the upcoming walleye spawn as well.
"There's going to be some different patterns for those fish and for the anglers going after them," Hawkins said. "I think the spawn and that post-spawn activity for those walleye is going to be really contracted. We keep getting questions about the walleye spawn — 'are they going to spawn under the ice' and things like that."
Other late ice-out dates have often resulted in the most successful gill-netting seasons. Gill-netting is the process of catching fertile gamefish, fertilizing the eggs and giving the young offspring a head start at predator-free local hatcheries. The process helps restock the walleye, northern pike and muskie populations in Iowa's lakes.
Hawkins said walleye are waiting for water temperatures to be favorable for a spawn — but they know their time is coming. The fish are sensitive to the length of sunlight — spawning activity is usually triggered in mid-April. As water temperatures start to get above 40 degrees, they will spawn very quickly.
"You may see quite a bit more activity from some of those male walleye — more aggressive activity," Hawkins said. "We'll be catching the females — they'll definitely be recovering from their spawn about that time."
The area has never had lake ice for the annual Iowa Great Lakes Walleye Weekend. This year's weekend celebration is May 5-6.
"That's a full week past the record (for late ice out), so that's probably a long shot," Hawkins said. "I know everybody's a little nervous about that, but we'll just have to wait and see at this point."
In the meantime, Hawkins encourages people to be careful in and around the lakes.
"I haven't seen anybody on the ice lately, but I'd encourage everyone to be very, very cautious at this point," Hawkins said. "This ice is pretty compromised, I would say, after the rain we had. There's a lot of weight, with the snow on top."