Published April 2, 2023

Slice of Life  

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan
Lake Nelson, where warm water meets cold air. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)
Lake Nelson, where warm water meets cold air. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

The Gift of Nelson Lake

Darn it anyway. Sometimes it seems as though the warm days of spring will never come. However, at least for some, there’s a remedy of sorts.  

Long winters are tough on anyone, but especially on those fishermen who are tired of looking at fishing rods stacked in a corner, maybe hanging on a rack, and a boat that has been tarped since last fall and is surrounded by deep snow. 

Snow is piled up everywhere. Temperatures are February-like. Ice is 2-3 feet thick. You’ve had enough of the ice fishing season and are constantly looking at long-range weather forecasts. The yearning for wetting a line in open water is almost too much to endure. 

Need help? Perhaps a good support group? Nelson Lake is the ideal prescription for you. 

Yup. Nelson Lake. Located near Center, it is a lake so warmed by power plant water that it has open water all year round. That’s right. Launch a boat, kayak, or fish from shore no matter what the temperature. Darned if it isn’t good fishing too! 

“Absolutely. It’s a great lake you can fish all winter long in open water. There’s some really great fishing here,” said Geremy Olson, Washburn. 

Olson was recently fishing Nelson Lake with his son, Peter, who enjoys multiple trips to Lake Nelson every year, especially during the cold days of winter when other bodies of water in the state are covered in thick ice. 

“Scratching an itch to fish open water? This is the best place to do it,” said Peter Olson. “There’s always open water somewhere here on Nelson and the best time is the wintertime. It’s always hot water and, on those warmer days in January and February, you can come out here and catch fish all day long.” 

The most sought-after species in Nelson Lake is largemouth bass, but anglers catch crappie, bluegill, and the occasional northern pike too. Water temperatures at this time of year are generally in the 55–65-degree range where the outlet channel from the power plants enters the lake. It stays plenty warm enough to keep most of the lake from freezing during the winter, with water temps almost always considerably higher than the air temperature. 

“Yes, you can open water fish it year-round. It’s enjoyable to be able to take a break from ice fishing and come out and catch fish, some big ones too,” said James Francis, Minot, while shore fishing Nelson Lake March 25. “This is the time of year when you usually catch the big ones getting ready for the spawn.”


James Francis, Minot, with a largemouth bass pulled from the open water of Nelson Lake. (Photo: submitted)

But Nelson Lake is much more than fishing. It’s a wonder of sorts, with waves lapping at the shoreline while the rest of the state’s waters are encased in ice. A delightful oddity coated in fog from warm water meeting cold air. For a few minutes, or a few hours, Nelson Lake provides a wonderful break for those who desire a bit of promise that the winter season will come to an end.  

“It’s a great way to break the cabin fever. Even if you are an ice fisherman, you get kind of tired of it and this winter has been really long,” said Paul Reinbold, Gladstone. “It’s such a great thing to have Lake Nelson available to fish all year round if you want.” 

Nelson Lake is not entirely a secret. Most fishermen have heard of it, even if they haven’t fished it. However, more and more anglers are braving winter weather to visit the warm water fishery. Marty Mantz of Center, located a short distance from Nelson Lake, has been fishing that body of water regularly for several years and knows is well acquainted with the lake’s unique appeal. 

“We see a lot of people from outside the area come here and fish. It’s a good place to get away from ice fishing,” remarked Mantz. 

The Badland Bass Bandits are comprised of a dedicated group of anglers who enjoy endlessly chasing bass in open water. Every year they get a head start on the fishing season, hosting the “Ice Bowl” regardless of the weather 

Where? Why, Nelson Lake of course. This year’s Ice Bowl was held on March 25. 

“In true Ice Bowl fashion it cold out today,” said Reinbold. “There’s only one time I remember when we wore shorts. It was 75 degrees. Other than that we’ve been bundling up like Eskimos and catching fish.” 

What’s a little cold when you have an opportunity to fish open water instead of drilling a hole on a frozen lake? 

“This was a fun day, doing something other than ice fishing,” remarked Brayden Francis, Minot. “We caught some decent fish too.” 

Colton Blomberg, Minot, with a nice largemouth bass caught March 25 at Nelson Lake. (Photo: submitted)

The boat fishing team of Colton Blomberg and John Lancaster, Minot, took home first place honors. The father-son team of James and Brayden Francis, fishing from shore, was second. 

It was a cold day, about 12 degrees when the tourney started, and a brisk north wind. Nevertheless, the warm water of Lake Nelson, and the camaraderie of fellow anglers, made for a wonderful day. 

“Both shore and boat fishermen had success today,” noted Reinbold. “Everyone had a good time.”  

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