Winter's early arrival makes many people cringe, but for ice fishing enthusiasts and resorts or outfitters that cater to ice fishing, this year's freeze-up is a breath of fresh air.

An arctic blast of fresh air.

From Devils Lake to Lake of the Woods and most points in between, ice fishing is off to an early start this year.

"This is the earliest I can remember," Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, said.

With a few exceptions in areas such as Long Point, where a patch of open water persists, resorts along the south shore of Lake of the Woods are pulling rental houses onto the ice, Henry said. Several resorts have started fishing or will begin the season in the next few days, Henry said.

Most years, ice fishing on Lake of the Woods hits full swing closer to Dec. 10, he said.

"We were just so lucky with the way it froze," Henry said. "Ice is fairly smooth, and it froze very solid and clear. So far, it's looking good."

Ice fishing is big business on Lake of the Woods, where anglers each of the past two winters logged nearly 2 million hours of ice time, statistics from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources show.

The winter fishing season also is poised for an early start on Devils Lake, where anglers in some areas have been venturing out for several days.

"We've got great ice conditions; we've had a very, very good start to it," Kyle Blanchfield of Woodland Resort on Devils Lake said. "This will probably be the earliest we'll ever have our fish houses out. We're thinking we'll probably be taking our fish houses out tentatively by Dec. 10."

Most years, it's closer to Dec. 20 before all of the rental houses are out, Blanchfield said.

Creel Bay had about 8 inches of ice midweek, he said, and smaller lakes farther north in the Devils Lake Basin have even more.

"There's actually people venturing out with vehicles up on the northern basin," Blanchfield said. "I don't know if I'd recommend that yet."

At least 4 inches of clear, blue ice is recommended for walking, 5 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle, 8 to 12 inches for a car or small pickup and 12 to 15 inches for a medium truck.

Woodland Resort can pull its smaller houses out on the lake with lightweight vehicles when there's about 10 inches of ice, Blanchfield says.

"What we do is we plot a trail and we drill it and measure it and mark it, and so we try to minimize any of the issues," he said. "Because there's certainly going to be places that have more ice and places that have less ice.

"We don't want to be in the less ice spots, obviously."

On Lake of the Woods, there's about a foot of ice where resorts and outfitters are traveling, Henry says, but other areas are much thinner.

"That's why it's so important this time of year to use a resort or an outfitter and to stay on their marked trails and fish the areas they're allowing you to fish," he said. "You don't want to go roaming out on your own trying to get away from people this time of year because you can easily get yourself in trouble.

"I say that every year, but it's so true."

Early fishing reports are excellent, Henry said.

"People are catching fish," he said. "A lot of fish."

The early freeze-up definitely gets anglers excited, said Steve "Zippy" Dahl of the Perch Patrol Guide Service on Devils Lake, who was traveling with Blanchfield to St. Paul, where he has a booth at the ice show.

"One of every five or six years, we get ice this early," Dahl said. "That's huge to be able to tell these people that come and see you at your booth that you've got 5-6 inches of ice already.

"The phone's ringing, and the enthusiasm is there. Everybody's jacked up."

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