Ice season is upon us, be safe
Blog by: David Coulson , Colorado 11/23/2011
There are many measures of "safe" ice, but the best approach to ice fishing in my book is to never assume the ice is safe. As a starting point assuming hard clear ice, two inches or less stay off, four inches will support ice fishers, eight or more inches will support small vehicles. See the Minnesota DNR website for more details. However, many times the ice isn't clear and hard, in those situations thicker ice is required.
Consider using snow shoes when you go out on snow covered ice, as the weight of the snow will often result in water on top the ice. While you won’t necessarily fall though without snow shoes, they will help keep your feet dry, and consequently make for a more comfortable outing.
Keep in mind that waters ice up from the shore out, so the thickest ice will be near shore and over shallow water at the start of the season. Conversely, lakes also thaw shore out, so late season ice will be best away from the shore.
Many of our lakes are really reservoirs. Their levels fluctuate throughout the winter. If they are filling, there can be thin ice along the shore all winter, especially with heavy snow. In those cases a plank maybe in order to get you onto thicker ice and keep your feet dry. If the reservoir levels drop when it has an ice cap, large air spaces can occur under the ice, representing a real danger of collapse when the ice is not floating on water. When you see ice that has buckled, use caution going out.
Remember that springs, and moving water under an ice cap can cause thin spots in ice caps that are otherwise thick enough to support you. Always be alert for such situations. Further, it is possible to step through an old ice hole, especially after a fresh snow. While stepping in a ice hole may not be life threatening, wet feet will definitely hurt the comfort level.
Many ask when a lake will cap. Watch the conditions reports, once the surface water temps drop below 38 degrees (water is densest at that temperature), and the average air temperatures are under 32 degrees (low plus high divided by two is a rough measure) the reservoir will start icing up in a week or two. Once a lake forms an ice cap, it will typically add one to two inches of ice per week. So allow at least two weeks from first ice before venturing out.
When approaching recently iced water, never go along. Make sure your buddy has a throw rope. Consider wearing a live vest and carrying ice picks to assist pulling yourself onto the ice if you go through. Venture out a few feet, listening for sounds of strain such as cracking. If all seems good, drill a test hole (or hit ice with a spud). If the thickness it to your liking venture out a bit further and retest. Continue this process until you get to where you’re planning on fishing.
Under good conditions ice fishing is a safe and pleasant activity, but like all outdoor activities it has its inherent risks. Failure to respect that can turn a good day bad in a hurry. Fish safe!