The Lake Darling dilemma

So much for the boat fishing opener at Lake Darling. The lake was still frozen this past Wednesday. The boat ramps remained snow and ice covered – those you could get to anyway. One ramp, Landing No. 3, was unreachable due to snowmelt runoff tearing apart a roadway.

A day that would normally see several boats being backed into the water for what is the first outing of the year for many boat fishermen was, instead, quite unremarkable. That is, unless you consider the circumstances.

“Over all these years I’ve never seen solid ice this late,” said Duane Anderson, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, while standing along the shore at the lower end of Lake Darling this past Wednesday. “The lake is 95 percent covered. I’ve never seen that. People have always been able to get their boats in on May 1.”

The only open water that could be seen on Lake Darling last week was a small area in front of the dam’s release gates and where the river channel winds underneath a bridge at the Grano Crossing. A lone ice-fishing house remained on the lake’s upper end. The owner was reportedly devising a plan to remove the shanty, something that was required to have occurred no later than March 15.

Anderson has been on staff at Upper Souris for more than 35 years. He’s seen a lot of changes and recalls some weird weather patterns, but nothing like what has happened this year.

“Some years there was slush or broken ice on the lake, but never to the point where you couldn’t get a boat in. This has been one of the most unusual years we’ve ever seen,” said Anderson.

Spring temperatures this year averaged about 15 degrees below normal for several weeks. Cold temperatures delayed the melt, even allowed for a late season snowstorm to dump 12 to 20 inches of snow throughout the Minot region. Some of that snow still coated Lake Darling this past week.

When the melt finally came it did so with a rush. Much of the snowpack disappeared within a few hours, causing rapid and sudden runoff. In some locations the runoff caused damage, such as at the road leading to Landing No. 3 at Upper Souris. A torrent opened a gaping hole in a roadway where fishermen would normally pull their boats to access a boat ramp.

“There’s an awful lot of work that needs to be done,” said Anderson while observing the damage. “There’s a lot of material to replace. It was a tremendous amount of water that came through here.”

So, with the lake covered in ice and a road ripped apart, there was nothing normal about the May 1 boat fishing opener at Lake Darling. The road will be fixed as soon as conditions permit, but not before runoff quits flowing through the gap leading from Mackobee Coulee to Lake Darling.

When Lake Darling will become ice-free remains dependent upon the weather. Each day the lake remains frozen is another entry in the record books. In the meantime, for fishermen eager to launch a boat and wet a line, it is watch and wait before getting an opportunity to put a ceremonial exclamation point on the unusually late arrival of spring.

When that finally happens, boat fishermen will return to ramps at the east end of the dam, Landing No. 1, Grano and Greene. Sooner or later Landing No. 3 will reopen, too, and the late arrival of spring will become a fading memory.