First ice bite is good, but not worth foolish risks
Get your ice gear ready. Winter is here to stay. We will have a few nice days in the next week that will provide a chance for some open water anglers to get out for a few hours on some of the larger deeper lakes that will stay ice free for another week or two (lakes like Cormorant, Ottertail and Rose). Time is limited for open water as smaller, shallow lakes (like Little Detroit) are iced over already.
Even the few nice days in the mid-30s to low 40s that are forecast for several days in a row early this week, will probably not be enough to open them all the way back up. The forecast after next week continues to look like we will have some fishable ice by Thanksgiving.
There is no safe ice now! Stay off the ice. You will have a longer ice season this year than we have had for a number of years now. I know that first ice bite can be very good, but wait until it is safe. No fish is worth risking your life or health and creating grief for those that love you. Don't let the pride of being one of the first on the ice cloud good judgment. Err on the side of caution.
Ice should be 4 inches thick before venturing out on foot. Remember, too, that ice thicknesses are not always consistent, especially early in the ice season. You may get out 200 feet and have 4 inches, get out another 20 hundred feet and have 2.5 inches.
Check as you go with an ice spud, hand auger, or drill with a long bit. Check thickness with a tape measure by hooking it on the bottom of the ice and measuring to the top of the ice (not the hard pack snow that may be on top of the ice). Don't just guess by looking.
We want good clear ice. Ice that is white or honeycombed only has half the strength of clear ice. If you have a couple inches of clear ice and two inches of white ice, you only have 3 inches of ice thickness. Stay away from current areas and early season ice that has drifted snow. Shallow weed areas, gravel or boulders in shallower water can also have thinner ice.
ATVs or snowmobiles should not be on the ice until we have a consistent 5-7 inches of good clear ice. The heavier ATVs (like full cab crew side-by-sides) and sleds should have more like the 7-8 inch ice. When we get to 8-12 inches of ice, it can support cars and small (S10 type) pickups. For medium-sized trucks, wait until we have 13-15 inches of ice.
Bait shops and all-season resorts can be a good resource for ice thickness and ice condition reports. You still also need to check for yourself. Remember that snow loads on top of the ice can sag the ice and weaken that ice. If you start to get some water coming up through your holes, you may need to move your sled/ATV and yourself. Don't crowd an area—especially in the early ice season.
Make good decisions and err on the side of safety.
(Laabs is owner of Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)