Get your ice gear ready. Put away your open water gear. Winter is here to stay.

The forecast after next week continues to look like we will have some fishable ice by Thanksgiving. Ponds and some small shallow lakes are skimming over now and more lakes will add to the list of getting ice over with high’s in the 20’s to low 30’s and overnights in the teens forecast for the next 10 days.

There is no safe ice now! Stay off the ice. You will have a longer ice season this year than we have 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 judgement. Err on the side of caution.

Ice should be a consistent 3-4 inches thick before venturing out on foot.

Remember, too, that ice thicknesses are not always consistent from lake to lake or from shore ice to mid-lake, especially early in the ice season. You may get out 200 feet and have 4 inches, get out another 100 feet and have 2.5 inches. Check as you go with an ice spud, hand auger, or drill with an auger or a long bit.

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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.

ATV’s or snowmobiles should not be on the ice until we have a consistent 5-7 inches of good clear ice. The heavier ATV’s (like full cab crew side by sides) and sleds should have more like 6-8 inches of ice. When we get to 8-12 inches of ice, it can support cars and small (S-10 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. Because others are out on ice early, doesn’t mean that it is safe. When it comes to early ice, there is no shortage of idiots, or those that just don’t know better.

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 stay safe.

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)