Get ready for ice season during 'tweener' time
What a difference a week makes in our weather. By the time you are reading this, we will have many of the small lakes and ponds skimmed over with ice. With the projected forecast we should have ice on all our lakes by Dec. 1. This is the time when many anglers get excited for the upcoming ice fishing season. This is also what is known as "tweener" time. It is that time that spans the open water season and the safe ice, hard water season.
Ice under two inches thick is unpredictable and unsafe. The Minnesota DNR recommends four inches of ice before heading out on foot to chase your fish. Part of the reason for this recommendation is that ice thicknesses will vary on the lakes. If you are on two inches and come across a thinned down area you will be in trouble. The recommended ice thickness for snowmobiles and ATV's is five to six inches of ice and for cars and small trucks a minimum of eight inches to be safe. Large trucks safe ice recommendations are 15 inches. You need to check all lakes, as ice thicknesses will vary from lake to lake, especially early ice.
Ice areas near currents (neck down areas, creek or river inlets and outlets) are always dangerous areas even when the rest of the lake has "good ice." Other areas to pay attention to that can be dangerous will be shallow areas that have a dark bottom or boulders and rocks. These areas can absorb heat from the sun and keep ice from forming as well as it does in other areas of the lake. Lake weeds, especially emergent weed areas, can also have thin ice. Always check ice thickness if ranging onto these areas. An ice chisel and tape measure is all you need. Don't be in a hurry.
To develop good ice we need the weather to remain cold with no snow. Snow on top of thin ice weighs it down, makes it weak, and creates an insulation barrier that slows the development of the freezing process. Areas that get drifted over can have poor ice while areas that have been blown clean will have good clear ice.
Slush on the ice is not a good thing! If you punch your test hole and water bubbles out of the hole and floods the area, you are bowing the ice. You have a problem. Remember that water always seeks its own level.
Use this tweener time to get your ice fishing gear organized. Re-spool rods, organize your ice fishing tackle, start and run your auger, fill propane tanks, test your heaters, and make yourself a checklist so you have what you need and want with you when you are ready to venture onto the ice. When walking out on early ice, use your ice chisel to check as you go. It is best to go with a buddy and make sure you know where each other are. Cell phones have become a great safety device as well.
When you do get out on the early ice, areas you had fish activity on the open water right before freeze up will be great spots to locate your early bite. Be smart and safe when you get out to enjoy the great outdoors.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)