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Boreal Emergency Preparedness Portal

Slush is a risk on many northern Minnesota lakes this winter

Jan 20, 2020 09:20AM ● By Editor
Deep snow, such as this wintry scene from a North Dakota lake in January 2009, can create treacherous conditions and increase the risk of encountering slush. Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department

By Brad Dokken from the Grand Forks Herald - January 20, 2020

When it comes to ice fishing, mere mention of the word “slush” is enough to make me cringe.

Anyone who’s ever been stuck in slush on a lake that has too much snow on top of the ice can relate, I’m sure.

It’s awful; an absolute nightmare.

Slush has been in the news a lot this winter with the abundance of snow that fell before many northern lakes had a chance to form good ice. Besides insulating the ice, the snow when it gets too deep and heavy forces water up through cracks, resulting in slush hidden below the surface of the snow.

Getting stuck in snow is bad enough; getting stuck in slush takes the misery to a whole new level.

In the Bemidji area, which has some of the worst snow and slush conditions in the region, access was beginning to improve early this past week with the onset of colder weather, but additional snow and more in the forecast delivered another setback.

“I’m looking out my window, Lake Bemidji is usually 100-200 houses that I can see. It’s a ghost town -- not a single house,” Henry Drewes, Northwest Region fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji, said Thursday from his office next to Lake Bemidji. “We got 6 inches this week in two events and another 5 to 7 inches coming.

“The prognosis doesn’t look much better.”

Bemidji fishing guide Dick Beardsley in a fishing report on his Facebook page said snowshoes are about the only safe option on Lake Bemidji and other lakes in the area. Vehicles are a “no-go,” he said, and even snowmobiles risk getting mired down in slush if they hit a patch that’s too deep -- especially if they’re pulling a tow sled or portable ice house.

The snow definitely is heavy, the DNR’s Drewes said.

“There’s moisture in this snow,” he said. “Last year, we had 90 inches in Bemidji, (but) it was dry and just didn’t have weight. That 12-incher we got in late December, that stuff was heavy.”

Perfect, in other words, for creating slush conditions on lakes with deep snow on top of the ice.

I’ve had a few “shut my eyes and hit the throttle” moments with slush over the years on my snowmobile, but I’ve been fortunate to avoid getting severely stuck all but once, back in the winter of 2001 while attending an ice fishing event for outdoors media on Lac des Mille Lacs about 90 miles west of Thunder Bay, Ont.

That was a good one -- or bad one -- depending on how you want to look at it.

We’d spent most of the four-day media event closer to Thunder Bay fishing Lake Superior and the Nipigon River but changed it up for a day trip to Lac des Mille Lacs.

The day was cloudy and snowy, as I recall, and the leader of the excursion had decided to pick up and move to a new fishing spot in hopes of finding walleyes, which to that point had been inactive and mostly elusive.

Unfortunately, that decision included steering us off the trail and into some of the nastiest slush imaginable. I was far enough back in the pack to know trouble when I saw it, and I stopped my snowmobile as soon as I saw the lead machine was in trouble.

As a result, I didn’t get stuck.

There was 3 feet of ice under the snow, and the day wasn’t cold, so we weren’t in any danger, but there also was knee-deep slush lurking under the snow. We were a sizeable crew, probably six or more, so there was plenty of manpower to free the bogged-down machines

I can still see the bog-stained water flying up behind spinning snowmobile tracks like the prop wash from an outboard motor. Here’s how I described the epic struggle in a story I wrote upon my return.

Wet with sweat, slush and snow, we push and pull and swear and heave and watch swirls of coffee-colored water fly up behind the spinning tracks.

This would have made great spectator sport.

After about an hour, we free the machines and head back to the trail and a drier spot a few miles away.

More than the fishing, that encounter with slush is what I’ll remember about the first and only time I fished Lac des Mille Lacs. One of the organizers of the adventure later quipped that Lac des Mille Lacs must be French for “Lake of Many Horrors.”

Call it a lesson learned.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to [email protected]

To read the original column and see related outdoors reporting, follow this link to the Grand Forks Herald website.

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