Early season thin ice can be hazerdous
It is time now to talk about early ice safety. For many veteran ice anglers these reminders are not required as you have been practicing early ice safety for years. We still have many new and young anglers becoming a part of the growing ice angling sport. These tips are mostly for the rookie, but also reminders for the veterans as it is easy to take experience for granted (we all need reminders sometimes for what we already know).
Safety is all about common sense and making sure you error on the side of caution. We can all suggest everybody wait until four inches of solid clear ice as that is safe if you are on foot, but there are always those that push the envelope and risk thinner ice. The early ice bite can be an active and aggressive bite time and because of that, there are always some that will take dangerous risks.
Do not go out on early ice alone. Make sure you have a partner. Let someone know where you are going and have a check-in time. If you are running late, let them know. Have your cell phone with you. Take an ice chisel with you and check the ice in front of you as you advance on the ice to your fishing spot. You may start out walking over 4" of ice, but that doesn't mean that it is 4" everywhere. Underwater springs and current areas will thin the ice. Thin ice conditions can also exist over some shallow weed areas as well as rock piles (they absorb the heat of the sun and warm the shallow water area above them). Neck down areas and shallow bars can also create inconsistent ice thicknesses. It is a good idea to have hand picks with you, they can be plunged into the ice with one hand in front of the other to pull you out and get you onto safe ice if you break through. They can be purchased at most stores that sell ice fishing supplies or make them at home with a couple of 16 penny nails through a couple small blocks of wood.
Early ice can be very slippery. To avoid falls and maintain good traction you can get ice cleats that strap over your warm boots. Include a length of rope in your early ice equipment checklist.
Thin ice can bow very easily under too much weight. If you are getting water coming up through your holes you are bowing the ice, as water will always seek level. Thin ice that gets water saturated gets weaker and thins down. Spread out and do not crowd fishing areas during early ice.
If you set up a portable and start your heater to keep warm, remember that heat also weakens the ice! If you are on 4" to start and sit a couple hours with heat in your portable you wont be sitting on 4" when you are done. Even moving a few feet and letting nature help you maintain safety will be worth it for the future of your ice fishing.
Dramatic changes in temperatures in the early season can create ice heaves and pressure ridges. The ice conditions are unpredictable around pressure ridges so don't just wander across them. Go around them if possible and minimally check them for safety before crossing.
Do not take your ATV or snowmobile on the ice until there is a solid 5-6". Make sure your common sense overrules your fish catching passion. Err on the side of safety. I speak from experience when I tell you it is no fun to climb out of ice water.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)