Sunday, April 18, 2021
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Ice is coming!

by Mike Howe
| November 12, 2020 12:00 AM

Its almost mid-November and like it or not (ice anglers definitely like it) old man winter is knocking again. Hunters have had early season snow to help move the game, and I am thankful that the snow we have had in Montana, has fallen primarily on open water. Wet heavy snow on early lake ice spells disaster, as most of Minnesota experienced last year. If you don’t like

ice fishing in ten inches of slush, (and no one does except for a couple of local plastics makers who are thought to be a couple degrees off center anyway) then pray for cold, cold temperatures before the big snows come!

Several intrepid folks I know have already been on early ice, in Washington, Montana, and the Dakotas, and I am looking for safe ice this weekend myself. Being in Northern North Dakota as I write this, my quest should be an easy one. A few things to share though before this happens. Anyone who knows me well, knows I believe in personal responsibility as much as I do safety. I also know that living on the edge and feeding one’s inner adventurer is what makes many of us tick. Can we adventure safely and prudently? Of course. But life is not without risk, and almost every outdoor adventure involves some. Every year I write columns words about ice safety and how to keep yourself on top of the ice, this year will be no exception.

The best money you will spend on ice fishing this year or any, is to purchase a safety suit specifically designed for ice fishing. Bold statement I know…but with proper ice wear you can remain buoyant IF you go thru, avoid (to a degree) the hypothermia that is the real killer in many submersions, and when you are warmer you will fish longer and enjoy your time on the ice more. Some of the best clothing in the world for extreme winter conditions can be had for

less than a single car payment for most folks, and many’s monthly beer budget!

Next is a set of $10 ice picks you secure around your neck, and a heavy chisel or “spud bar” to test the ice as you go. Cleats are the final basic item that are a must for early ice. Falling and hitting your head on glare ice may provide amusement to your buddies, but the impact on iffy ice might just send everyone in the drink. These basic items can improve your chances of avoiding a breakthrough, and increase your survival if you do.

Now early ice is NOT for everyone. There are plenty of folks who won’t go out until they can drive a four-wheeler (recommended 6-10” of good clear ice” or even more. Those that do want to get out as soon as they can though should be very aware of several things. One, clear black ice will hold significantly more weight than white, cloudy ice with lots of air pockets. If you know a lake froze, thawed, opened up, froze then got rained on? BAD ice…Did it literally lock up overnight and has remained frozen for a few days? Probably very good ice! If you are the first one out on a lake checking ice, please do not start by chucking boulders on the ice right at the ramp! Unless you can throw your weight in a single rock, you’ve only created a hazard. Also, don’t create a big hole by driving your four-wheeler on ice you know won’t hold it, as that will only create a weak spot on the ice where everyone else will travel soon enough.

Create a small test area off to the side.

Lastly, always use the buddy system when testing first ice, and don’t pressure anyone else to go if it is not in their comfort zone. Too many people DIE every year pushing the envelope of early ice, whether ice anglers, trappers, hunters so be aware of what you are trying to accomplish, be confident in your tools and live to fish another day. That’s the entire point! I’ll see you on the water!