Ice anglers eager to catch early-ice crappies are already hitting Pontoon Bay of Fish Lake, says Tim Wagner of Hi-Banks Resort near Duluth.
"We've got 5 to 6 inches of ice," Wagner said. "We get about 30 cars a day here, guys walking down."
Understand that the cars aren't on the ice. Nor any permanent ice shelters. Just folks shuffling down the ice with their portable fishing shelters, setting up for a few hours of action.
It's still early in the season, and not all lakes are safe to venture out on -- it's important to check with resorts or bait shops about ice conditions, and be cautious.
The eager anglers who have found safe ice conditions are part of a continuing surge of hard-water anglers that has been driving explosive growth in the ice-fishing industry for several years, said Russ Francisco of Marine General Supply in Duluth.
"Last year was a big growth year," Francisco said. "We thought that was the top."
But this year has started fast, too, he said.
"Last week was a record week for us," he said. "This year, for some reason, it's tents. When we get early ice, it's tents that sell first. When we get late ice, it's electronics that sell first."
Ice formed early this year compared to recent years. It's still relatively thin and unsafe in many areas -- including most of Fish Lake -- but it has put folks in the mood to buy ice-fishing gear, Francisco said.
"The manufacturers are already running out," he said. "The Strikemaster auger -- the factory is out."