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Quit worrying: Winter is here to stay, and so is the ice

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 12/14/2013

This morning over breakfast I read the newspaper, as is my daily habit.  The last thing I do is check the weather section. While not exactly accurate, it does give me a general idea of what to expect over the next ten days, and I use that to guide my fishing.  For example, if I know a front is coming Saturday, and I can fish either Saturday or Sunday, Iíll make sure to be on the water Saturday.

This morning I noticed weíre looking at maybe a week where the highs will get above freezing. For me that means itís time to go fishing, including ICE FISHING.  Why? Because itíll be comfortable and my hands wonít hurt (too many frostbitten days in my history). 

However, I also know there will be a large number of folks posting, ďIt's warming, will the ice be safe?Ē  I suspect almost all of them were asleep in science class, which I assume is still required in high school.

So letís review a couple basic water facts.  First, air temperatures, when the air is colder than 32 degrees Fahrenheit, zero degrees Celsius, it means air contact with water at that temperature (32) will cause it to begin to freeze, warmer, water or ice will also warm.  However, in a day there are twenty-hours, and during that period this time of the year some hours the temperature will be below freezing, others above.  The question is will there be more freezing or thawing on that day.  The actual high or low really doesnít matter.  On average is it freezing?  If so ice will be made, if not ice will be lost.

Now you could go through and figure the average by adding the temperature each hour, and dividing by 24.  A royal pain, even if you could find the data.  I did a bit of empirical testing and found that if you add the daily low and high then divide by two that number is very close to the daily average temperature got by adding all 24 hourly temperatures and dividing by 24.  Point is if the daily average is below 32 Fahrenheit, then ice may form, above it some ice will be lost.

But thatís not the end of the story.  It takes a lot of energy to convert water to ice, and ice to water.  Wake up!  This is what you missed in science class that will help with your ice fishing.  A calorie is defined as the energy to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius.  No big deal, itís just a definition.  But hereís the important part, while it only takes one calorie to warm or cool a gram of water one degree Celsius, it takes 80 calories to convert a gram of ice to water or water to ice.  DID YOU GET THAT? IT TAKES 80 TIMES AS MUCH ENERGY TO CHANGE ICE TO WATER AS IT TAKES WATER TO CHANGE ONE DEGREE.  Yes I yelled. But hey, you were the one sleeping is science class.

The point is this, a few days of mild weather this time of year will slow the ice formation, and it may even thin it ever so slightly.  But barring high winds coupled with warm temperatues or the reservoir rising (thins the shoreline ice), the ice wonít change much.  If you considered it OK to fish on a couple days earlier, it will be much the same over the next few days.

So quit the worry already, use caution, and go fishing.

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
FISHRANGLER, 12/14/2013 12:04:25 PM
I might have missed the ice on lake science class and how it's built, but I did learned 24 hrs in a day not 20. That is a easy way to know Ice is still building. So where are you heading out to ice fish?
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 12/14/2013 12:11:30 PM
Douglas. Although Red Feather area is tempting. I'm going to follow up on this blog with a "water facts" that are important to anglers piece. So often folks ask/post questions that if they'd just think about these simple "water facts" they'd have the answer and in less time to post to and check the forum for an answer. Knowledge is key, in my book, to fishing success.
FISHRANGLER, 12/14/2013 4:54:12 PM
Research and knowledge is key. I have spent no less than 60 hrs the last 2 week doing just that. I have hundreds more to spend this winter. When ever its below freezing I cannot work.
FISHRANGLER, 12/14/2013 4:55:34 PM
And Douglas is on the redar too.
Catcherman, 12/14/2013 7:36:33 PM
Simple water facts. I like it. If some peeps would just check out a lake page they would have the answer before they could begin to use simple water facts. Who would have thought an entire page about 11 mile with a current conditions report. Genius!
adrenaline_junkie_ff, 12/14/2013 8:52:16 PM
Thank you for the refresher Dave. I like your attitude. :)
BobLoblaw, 12/15/2013 6:00:35 AM
Thank you Dave, thru end of day yesterday the inch or two of snow on Cherry Creek hadnt even melted.
opencage, 12/15/2013 6:13:35 PM
Good blog Dave, it can be easy to sometimes forget how much science is actually involved in fishing. I look forward to the water facts write-up.
Milehighfishing, 12/17/2013 9:06:31 AM
In Jan of 2008 I fished Chatfield in the morning on top of 5" of ice, during the day it got to 70 degrees. We went back to the exact same spot for the afternoon bite and broke through 100 yards off shore. The 70 degrees didn't melt the ice, but it compromised it enough for it to sag under the weight of us and then break..... not trying to stop anyone just want everyone to be careful.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 12/17/2013 9:31:13 AM
Good point. And I would bet that there was a stiff breeze with the 70 degree day and depending where you were at there is a river channel, and springs in Chatfield also. I fished it for years when I lived close. I never say the ice is safe, as conditions other than air temperatures can make for dangerous spots. Matt stepped through at the shore getting onto Douglas which has 6 inches of ice. Point was, a day or two of 40-50 degree weather won't have any real impact on the overall ice coat. But . . .