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Ice fishing challenges brought on by heavy snow this winter

Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe Brian Mercie, of Arco, rides a small red dirt bike Saturday on Lake Shetek. Mercie chose his kids' bike because it fits well in his ice house.

CURRIE -- They came from the southern part of the state, and from the north, east and west. And what brought them to Lake Shetek?

"The landing is open!"

Ice fishermen and women in southwest Minnesota have had a tough time of it this winter since the Christmas Blizzard, which dumped snow everywhere -- including all the landings used for getting on and area lakes. Mother Nature wasn't content with the first pounding, and continued to add more and more of the white stuff.

Bait stores saw sales drop as the fishermen fumed at home, just knowing a massive crappie, walleye or perch was waiting for them in vain. As the end of walleye season neared, the impatience got worse. Lately, however, landings have been opened up here and there, and fishermen are getting in every moment of ice time they can grab.

Saturday, the activity on Lake Shetek was never-ending, as pickups came and went. Some pulled massive permanent fish houses, others dragged portable shacks. The north side of the lake near the inlet was populated with both, giving the impression of a village reminiscent of a scene from the movie "Grumpy Old Men."

Upon hearing the comparison, one veteran fisherman smiled.

"Well, it does take a village to catch a limit," he quipped, declining to give his name with the excuse he had told his wife he was helping a friend move snow.

"I may not have told her it was snow on the lake," he chuckled.

The constant sound of gas ice augers gave the impression the lake was being turned into one big salt shaker, filled with holes in the ice. Yells of elation and groans of despair echoed across the lake as schools of fish came through to strike bait, either being pulled into the air or lost back down into the icy-cold water.

Staring out the windows and doors of ice shacks at stuck vehicles was a constant occurrence between bites, and the sight of a Chevrolet pulling a Ford pulling a fish house out of deep snow was common as some of the fishers left their warm abodes to help a stranger out of a jam.

"You have to help out," one man said, attaching a tow rope to his truck's hitch after tying onto a stuck 4x4. "You might be the next one to need a tug."

One out-of-place sound caught the attention of many fishers. Used to hearing the revving of stuck trucks and the gas motors of the augers, more than one fisher looked out a window in surprise when they heard the rat-a-tat of a dirt bike. Many laughed with appreciation when they saw Brian Mercie of Arco zip by on his shiny red motorcycle.

"It's tough riding today," Mercia admitted when he pulled up by his own fish house after a spin around the lake. "Things are a little snowy right now."

Just a little?

Mercie said the small dirt bike he was riding Saturday belonged to his kids. The tires had small studs to help with traction on the snow and ice. Usually, he said, he rode a different motorcycle while out in the ice, but the smaller bike had fit better inside the fish house for transport to the lake.

"I usually ride a YZ250," he admitted with a laugh.

The walleye season comes to a close at the end of the month, which is also when all unoccupied fish houses will be required to come off the lake.

Until then, the dedicated sportsmen will continue to gun their engines and plow through the snow to get out onto area lakes. After all, that massive fish may still be waiting for an opportunity to strike, and the fishermen and women would miss the chance to yank it out of a lake and drop it into a frying pan.