Research ice thickness before going on the lake

Published 6:00 am Saturday, November 22, 2014

Scenes like this were common place in past years on the channel by Frank Hall Park. This past year’s winter fish kill will cause many to head to Fountain Lake for their hard water fishing. — Dick Herfindahl/Albert Lea Tribune

Scenes like this were common place in past years on the channel by Frank Hall Park. This past year’s winter fish kill will cause many to head to Fountain Lake for their hard water fishing. — Dick Herfindahl/Albert Lea Tribune

Column: Woods & Water, by Dick Herfindahl

Each year when winter first appears and the lakes begin to ice over, there are those few who like to be the first ones on the lake. I know that the rule of thumb for any avid ice fisherman is the earlier the better, but please don’t throw caution to the wind. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges people to stay off the ice at this early stage.

The DNR has guidelines. Stay off of ice two inches thick or less. Ice fishing and activities on foot can be done with a thickness of four inches. Snowmobiles or ATVs are allowed at five inches. At eight to 12 inches, a car or small truck is allowed. Medium trucks are permitted with ice thickness from a foot to 15 inches. Those guidelines are for new, clear solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.

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White ice or snow ice is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.

To inquire about ice thickness, contact a local bait shop or lakeside resort to ask about ice conditions. Check ice thickness once you get there.

Temperature, snow cover, currents, springs and rough fish all affect the relative safety of ice. Ice is seldom the same thickness over a single body of water; it can be two feet thick in one place and one inch thick a few yards away. Check the ice at least every 150 feet.

An ice chisel, ice auger, cordless drill and tape measure can be used to check ice thickness.

With the winter kill we experienced last year on Albert Lea and Pickeral lakes, I don’t anticipate any fishing villages popping up during this year’s hard-water fishing season. I can only assume that Fountain Lake will play host to the village people this year, and that there will be a lot of traffic on the lake. I also believe that Beaver and St. Olaf lakes will see an increase in traffic this winter.

Although the DNR tells us that a winter kill is good for the environment and makes for a healthy lake, I just don’t like the thought of starting over time and time again. I guess that at my age, I don’t want to start over too many more times.

Winter kill is one thing and “reclaiming” a lake is another, but to me both occurrences leave a little void that takes away the unknown factor that is part of why I fish. What if there was a 10-pound walleye swimming the depths of a lake that nobody envisioned being there? This is what makes fishing fun for me. Call it the x-factor or just the belief that at any given time that fish you’ve been searching for your whole life could be the one nibbling on your hook at that very moment.

As a kid, I would read fishing and hunting stories in the old Field and Stream magazines that my cousin, Tom, had given me and dream of living those experiences someday. While growing up, I always had a vivid imagination and would frequently find myself fanaticizing about visiting the many places where those stories took place. My imagination coupled with my love for the outdoors made me feel rich in ways that money couldn’t buy.

Looking back on those days one article sticks out in my mind and that was the one that talked about steelhead fishing in upstate New York. The black and white picture that accompanied the story showed fishermen standing elbow to elbow as they lined the banks of the river in the article. Judging by the landscape, I thought this could be anywhere in Minnesota, and where were the skyscrapers and concrete? Once I realized that there were indeed forest and streams in New York state, I also believed that this kind of fishing looked like an accident waiting to happen, and I vowed to myself that no matter how much I like to fish this kind of fishing would never work for me.

Give me a quiet little lake with little or no boat traffic, and I am in my element. I have never been one dimensional when it comes to fishing. Some folks fish strictly walleye, while others may hunt muskies or bass. But I, on the other hand, will fish for what’s active at the time or for whatever I can entice to bite on the secret bait that I have on the end of my line.

This year’s ice fishing season will soon be going strong, and I am looking forward to spending a little time on the ice with my oldest grandson, Trevor. It’s his turn to find the fish and take grandpa along for the ride.

Until next time, have a happy Thanksgiving, and remember to always use caution when venturing out on the ice this season.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason that we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.


DNR ice guidelines:

2 inches: stay off

4 inches: ice fishing,
activities on foot

5 inches: snowmobile
or ATV

8-12 inches: car or small pickup

12-15 inches: medium truck