It’s a messy problem that plagues Minnesota lakes every winter: litter left behind by ice anglers, especially on the state’s popular fishing lakes.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Mikeena Mattson works on the north end of Mille Lacs Lake.
She sees a variety of items left on the ice, from small – cigarette butts – to large – the occasional abandoned fish house.
"Just common garbage – you know, the waste that you produce throughout your day,” Mattson said. “Food waste, boxes from beverages or whatever it might be, human waste, animal waste, fish carcasses – stuff like that."
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Garbage can affect the lake's water quality, Mattson said, as well as harm fish, birds and other aquatic life. It also frequently washes up on shore in the spring, after the ice melts.
Mattson said she saw a little less garbage this year than in some past years, possibly because heavy snow and cold temperatures kept some anglers home.
She said the litter problem could be avoided by anglers planning ahead for a day of fishing, and bringing bags or containers to carry out their trash.
She advises not leaving unsecured items outside or in the back of a truck, where they can blow away.
"A lot of it is preparation – thinking about those things, the proper ways to store stuff when you're on the ice,” she said. “A lot of people will set things outside of their house. And on Mille Lacs and a lot of other lakes, you get some wind, it's a big open area, so it can go flying off."
Mattson said the DNR works to educate anglers about not littering, but conservation officers also do issue citations to violators.
And while the DNR doesn’t expect environmentally conscious anglers to pick up after those who leave trash behind, many do, Mattson said.
A campaign called Keep It Clean has formed on some lakes, including Red Lake, Lake of the Woods and Mille Lacs, to spread the word about leaving no trace on the ice.
Minnesota’s ice fishing season will wind down in the next few weeks. The deadline to remove fish houses from lakes in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota is March 7.
On inland lakes in the northern third of the state, anglers have until March 21.