Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Trails and Waterways crews are working to prepare nearly 2,000 DNR public water accesses for the May 10 fishing opener. However, due to excessive winter ice damage and the late ice out in the northern half of the state, it is unlikely they will fully meet their goal.
"Ice is causing some major problems in the north," said Tim Browning, DNR Northwest Region trails and waterways manager. "Hundreds of concrete boat ramps have been buckled from ice movement over the winter and repairs are being hampered by the late ice out. Our crews are working overtime to get as much done as fast as we safely can."
The late ice-out is also delaying dock installation. According to Browning, installing the docks before the ice disappears is not an option on most lakes, as strong winds could blow the ice toward shore and damage the docks.
DNR Northeast Region Trails and Waterways Manager Les Ollila concurs. "There just isn't enough time to get all the accesses ready before the opener, even if the ice melts tomorrow," said Ollila. "Once the ice melts, crews will be busy fixing ramps and getting docks in the water as quickly as possible."
The DNR urges anglers to use caution at access sites this fishing opener. Boaters should be aware that the condition of access ramps could differ above and below the water line. Boaters should inspect the entire ramp before launching a boat.
For more information about Minnesota's water accesses or the Minnesota fishing opener, visit www.mndnr.gov.
The DNR also reminds early-season anglers about the danger of cold-water shock and the importance of wearing a life jacket, especially in May and early June.
"The shock of a fall into cold water is certainly one of the biggest hazards for early season anglers," said Tim Smalley, DNR boating safety specialist. "The gasp caused by sudden immersion in icy water can cause the victim to inhale water and drown if they aren't wearing a life vest."
It was once thought that good swimmers who drowned after falling overboard into cold water were succumbing to heart attacks, Smalley said. While that may have happened to some victims, researchers find that most drown due to the torso reflex rather than a cardiac episode.
"The torso reflex is the gasp that happens when your face and chest suddenly enters cold water," Smalley said. "The gasp is automatic and nearly impossible to stop. If your face is underwater when it happens, it's often fatal, unless of course you're wearing a life vest."
Boats must have one U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable personal flotation device (life jacket) of the proper size for each person readily accessible on board. Boats 16 feet and longer also must carry a U.S. Coast Guard approved type IV throwable seat cushion or ring buoy on board.