Ice fishing changes proposed for Lake Darling

ATV, snowmobile use considered

There could be some big changes to ice fishing at Lake Darling this winter. Soon to enter public review is a proposal to allow all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles to be used on the lake during the ice fishing season. Some hurdles remain, but the process is underway to get federal approval for the change.

“We are hoping that it will get done before the ice fishing season,” said Frank Durbian, Souris Basin Refuge Complex manager. “That’s what we have submitted.”

ATV and snowmobile use has been banned at Lake Darling, which is located within the boundaries of the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge northwest of Minot. Ice fishermen have had to drive vehicles such as four-wheel drive pickups onto the ice or walk to their ice fishing destination.

Some sportsmen have called the use of full-sized vehicles on the ice a safety risk and have pushed for using lighter ATV’s and snowmobiles to access their fishing locations. Others say the use of ATV’s and snowmobiles will increase the number of anglers on the ice on any given day and put more pressure on the resource. There’s also the issue of enforcement as any approval for vehicles other than cars and trucks will likely be restricted to ice fishing activities only.

“As long as people obey the rules and don’t abuse it, it may be okay,” said Jon Votava, Minot, a longtime ice fisherman at Lake Darling. “But I guarantee you somebody will go tearing in the coulees somewhere. It’s a National Wildlife Refuge. Why not keep it the way it is?”

Rocky Schell, Minot, has been ice fishing Lake Darling for many years. He has been an advocate for the use of ATV’s or snowmobiles during the ice fishing season which would allow fishermen to tow their portable ice houses onto the lake without the worry of doing so with a much heavier vehicle.

“It’s fantastic,” said Schell when informed of the proposal. “We’ve been waiting for years for that. That’s great. That’s the wave of the future.”

ATV’s and snowmobiles have been allowed elsewhere, such as Lake Audubon on the Audubon NWR, during the ice fishing season. The use of snow-type vehicles makes it possible to access ice fishing spots that otherwise may not be reachable by other vehicles in deep or drifting snow, thereby allowing ice fishermen to be on the ice regardless of snow conditions.

“I think it’s the worst thing they could do,” said Jason Votava, Minot. ” The more access you get the more fish that get taken. If that’s the case they may as well leave it open to boat fishing all the way to freeze-up.”

At this point no changes to the ice fishing season have been approved, only requested. The proposal is expected to be discussed by Department of Interior personnel today and possibly signed. If so, the proposed changes would be entered into the Federal Register after Labor Day. Then comes a 60-day public comment period. Once the comments and concerns are addressed the proposal can be approved, denied or delayed.

“That’s the standard process for everything,” said Durbian. “It has to go through that process.”

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