by John Holbrook

(This monthly series is dedicated to those who live elsewhere but have always wondered what it is like living at Lake Hubert during the winter)


April Ice Breakup on Lake Hubert
Photo by John Holbrook


Not too long ago at a social gathering, various folks were sharing what was their favorite day of the year. Predictably, they listed Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays as favorites. After everyone had shared their favorites, the group looked at me for my response.

“No question about it,” I related. “My favorite day of the year is the day when the ice breaks up on LakeHubert.” Silence greeted my revelation and the group looked at my wife, Mary, for some sort of confirmation. “It’s true. He’s not making that up.” she sighed.

From my perspective, my favorite day makes perfect sense especially when you consider what happens after your traditional favorite day is over. The day after Christmas, it’s time to worry about a stack of unpaid bills. The day after Thanksgiving you are wondering what to do with leftovers and a messy turkey carcass. That birthday cake gets stale in a hurry plus you are stuck being a year older. But, the day after the ice breaks up is sheer bliss for me as I’m looking at seven joyful months of fishing, boating, swimming, or just sitting at the end of the dock savoring the quiet beauty of Lake Hubert

Well, you might counter, part of the fun of Christmas or other holidays is the anticipation of these special days. Thus, you might ask what can possibly be exciting about waiting for ice to melt? I’ll argue that watching ice melt is great excitement. It’s just that most people don’t know how to enjoy this type of fun.

You see, the advent of my favorite day actually starts several weeks before the ice actually breaks up. Usually, the very first signs are visible by mid-March. Although daytime temperatures barely reach 40 degrees, and it freezes every night, the strong early spring sun begins to melt the ice adjacent to shoreline rocks or anything else that is dark and absorbs heat. Pretty soon there will typically be several inches of fresh water between the ice shelf and shore. This little strip is like an aquarium as already various water bugs and occasionally even a lone stickleback minnow might be seen.

Eventually, that small strip of open water expands to a few feet and the edge of the ice shelf becomes mushy and weak. If you step on this edge, it quickly gives way and it is easy to find yourself in a couple of feet of frigid water.

Three days before "Ice Out", 2004
Photo by David Lindman

Farther out on the ice shelf, which is still relatively strong, potholes are forming where old ice fissures have come together. Some of these potholes closer to shore often belie where hidden springs are located, something you would never discover after the ice is gone.
By early April, there will normally be almost 20 feet of open water along the shoreline. That is a very big event for me as now I can launch my small canoe and paddle contentedly for several hundred yards up and down the shore. Admittedly, this is a strange sight especially for passing motorists who have even stopped on County Road 13 to point at me and laugh. Such mirth doesn’t last too long, however, as soon these observers can be seen to grow quiet and pensive. If they had the chance, they too would really like to be enjoying such an early season canoe ride.
Finally, by mid-April, Lake Hubert  is ready for the big event, the day the ice actually breaks up! For a few days prior to this date, the ice has turned a dark gray and has split into several distinct sheets. These sheets will drift with the wind and will often bump against the shoreline clogging up my canoe routes. This dying ice will no longer support any weight and it is now most foolhardy to even think about venturing out on it.
Most ice break ups on Lake Hubert occur during a strong wind, usually from the south. The ice sheet can be pushed several feet up the beach as it disintegrates but it still has the power to move shoreline rocks, rearrange rip rap, or damage any dock sections left too close to the water. The linear crystals also make a curious, almost musical, tinkling sound as they slide and bump along. The speed in which all of this can happen is truly impressive. Sometimes if the wind is strong enough, the break up will be over in a couple of hours. It is an absolutely fascinating phenomenon to view, and on some of  Minnesota’s larger lakes, such as Mille Lacs, scores of people will line the shoreline to watch ice pile up as high as 25 feet deep. Indeed, there have been many times when snowplows had to be summoned to clear roads covered by the piles of ice.

This special day on Lake Hubert  marks the official start of my “holiday period.” Now, I will wake up to the sound of loons and the sunshine sparkling off the gentle waves. I’ll go to bed watching the moon reflected off quiet waters. I’ll have my morning coffee at the end of my dock and my fishing boat will be launched for that first exhilarating ride around the lake.

Within a few days, I’ll even be chasing crappies and looking forward to that first spring meal of fresh fish.

Ah, yes, the day the ice breaks up. By far the very best day of the year!

Note: This is the final episode of the series.

To learn more about Ice Out on Lake Hubert, go to our Ice Out page where we list the dates the ice went out all the way back to the 1960s.

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