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Brad Laabs: Be careful fishing the first ice of the year

I write this as a follow up from last week’s article about early ice and ice safety in general. We will continue to get lakes iced over this week. It is important to note that not all bodies of water are equal when it comes to developing ice. Just because smaller bodies of water skimmed over early and have been iced up, does not necessarily mean that the ice is going to be thicker on that body of water. All ponds, creeks, rivers, small lakes and big lakes have their own characteristics when it comes to ice conditions.

Issues that can effect ice development and thickness will include water clarity, bottom content, current, and depth.

Shallow, clear bodies of water with hard sand bottom that have no river or creek current areas will develop ice quickly and with consistency.

Features like rock piles and gravel bars on clear lakes in shallow water areas can make for thinner ice areas than other areas of the lake, as the rock will absorb heat for the sun and warm the surrounding water.

Areas with river inlets and outlets will always have thinner ice and can be unsafe all winter due to thin ice conditions. Emergent weed areas can also be inconsistent and have some thin ice conditions.

It is always important to check ice conditions, especially in the early ice stages. The use of an ice chisel is invaluable for keeping safe as you explore your way out on first ice.

Other considerations for early ice safety include carrying ice spikes. You can buy the manufactured hand held spikes, make your own, or even just carry 16 penny nails with you. If you do break through the ice, the spikes can let you claw your way back onto the ice.

Early ice is usually smooth and slippery. I have taken falls on ice that have bruised hips, elbows and knees. I know others have broken bones or separated shoulders. A bad slip can wreck a fishing outing. Walk slow and careful, or better yet, get yourself some ice cleats. There are several styles and sizes of ice cleats that can be worn over your boots and cost  about 15 or 20 bucks.

Ice skates can also be a great way to travel on the early ice after you have checked to make sure your area has a good 3-4 inches. You can travel easily and quickly. If fishing with tip-ups, you can get to them with great ease on a pair of skates!

Travel light and take a partner, pull equipment in a sled or two, spread the load out between the two or more on the trip, and throw a rope in one of the equipment bags or sleds…just in case.

Let others know where you are going, and take a cell phone along. If you are fishing until sunset, take a headlight, flashlight, or spotlight with you for safe travel back on the ice in the dark.

In recent years, with the availability of the lightweight inflatable life jackets, some safety conscious anglers are wearing those during the first few early ice outings. Pretty smart!

Again, I urge you to make good decisions, proceed with caution and use your common sense when dealing with early ice conditions. As I stated last week, no fish is worth dying for. Even anglers with vast ice experience and good common sense have some stories about the unpredictability you will encounter at some time, especially on early ice. If you have no interest in taking any precautions, you think you are smarter than the ice and “mother nature”, then at least take out a life insurance policy and list someone you care about as the beneficiary.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)