Sioux Falls, SD
This has been a tough year on many South Dakota anglers. Some have spent less time on lakes this winter, while others have fallen victim to thin ice and fallen through. But eventually, the mild winter could payoff on local lakes.
From a distance, South Dakota lakes give a solid appearance that might look typical of winter. But a closer inspection shows anything but typical for this time of year.
"During a normal winter, we'd have 24 to 36 inches of ice on our lakes. And to date, I haven't received a report of anything over 14 inches anywhere in the region," Game Fish and Parks Regional Fisheries Manager Todd St. Sauver said
St. Sauver says that's made this a different winter for ice fishing enthusiasts. He's noticed fewer on the ice.
"In the 25 years I've been around, I haven't noticed as little ice fishing pressure as there's been this year," St. Sauver said.
One of the issues keeping anglers away is the inconsistency of ice. In some places, the ice is plenty thick. But go just a little ways away and you have open water like a patch on Wall Lake.
However, there could be a silver lining to this. In the water, the lack of snow cover and thin ice is allowing plants to give off oxygen that fish need to survive. Recent winters have been difficult on some lakes, where the oxygen has run out because of the harsh conditions. Spring melting then reveals a devastating loss of fish. This year, Game, Fish and Parks officials are optimistic that the winter kill will be avoided.
"Whenever we lose a lake to winter kill, we have to start over by restocking a lake with fish. And that generally takes about three years to recover a fishery after that," St. Sauver said.
That means anglers can look forward to a spring and summer that could payoff with better fishing opportunities.
One potential problem that St. Sauver notes is the potential drought going into this spring. He says if some late season snow or spring rain doesn't fall, some lakes in the area could be significantly down on water.