In a normal year with cold weather, die-hard ice anglers look for a place to ice fish.
Not this year as the weather in November was so warm so we didn’t have to ask many questions about ice fishing.
With the warm weather, not too many people are thinking about ice fishing, as it can be a while before you get safe ice in South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.
Before the colder weather hits and ice starts to form, it’s not a bad idea to refresh our memories when it comes to ice safety.
It’s common sense to be in a hurry to get out on smaller ponds and lakes. Before heading out on any body of water to ice fish, there is always a danger when it comes to ice.
The color of the gel is one of the best ways to tell if the gel is strong enough to hold you. Look for light blue ice, which is the strongest because it is created by sustained freezing.
Black, gray or honeycomb ice is the worst and unsafe due to repeated freezing and thawing. Dark or discolored spots are a good indicator of open water, thin ice, or possibly a spring, all of which are dangerous.
If there is snow on the ice, it acts as an insulator, preventing the formation of solid ice and making it almost impossible to judge its thickness.
Piling snow on unfrozen ground does the same to ice, it doesn’t allow low temperatures to drop and freeze the ground or water.
Of course, the ice may look solid, especially along the shore where the snow has blown clear, when in fact there are probably areas of the lake with little ice due to the snow covering it.
Anything on the ice, whether it’s ice caps, fishing piers, or bridges, absorbs the sun’s heat and increases melting. Vegetation will also absorb heat from the sun, and rotting vegetation can create its own heat. Fish, voles, beavers, and other animals that swim under the ice can weaken it. This is especially true in shallow lakes and rivers.
Any moving water weakens the ice by about 15%, and the pumping action created by the wind forces the water through the cracks, with cracks widening and making them larger. Be especially careful if there is a windmill or other type of aerator in the pond, as these have outlet pipes under the ice, creating moving water that will weaken the ice.
If you’re crossing the ice on foot and you’re not sure how thick the ice is, it’s safer to slide your feet instead of stepping, as this helps distribute your weight more evenly.
It’s also not a bad idea to bring an ice chisel to check the thickness of the ice as you go.
If you fall through the ice, once you get back on the ice, move away from the hole instead of standing up, as this helps you get thicker and safer ice.
Here are some general rules for how much ice is needed to support you and your team on light blue ice formed under ideal conditions.
In early winter, it’s a good idea to double the thickness just to be safe.
— Two inches or less, you want to stay off the ice.
— Four inches will support a group of people walking in a row.
— It takes 5½ to 6 inches of ice to support a snowmobile, UTV or ATV.
— You will need 8 to 12 inches to support an automobile.
— At 12 to 15 inches, that’s what it takes to support a pickup or truck.
Early ice fishing can be productive and a lot of fun, but getting out on the ice early, before good ice has formed, can spell disaster, so don’t rush to get on the ice.