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Column: How to stay safe and catch fish in these conditions

Be safe on the ice in these cold conditions. File photo1 / 2
Fishing Columnist Brad Laabs2 / 2

With the addition of six more inches of snow this last week, followed by extremely high winds, roads and trails were recovered and drifted over.

Travel on areas lakes now is dependent on re-plowing and redevelopment of driving trails to community fishing spots. By the time you are reading this, some have been re-opened already, but not all.

There are also some hard packed drifts on some of the lakes that are just waiting to get some risk-takers stuck on the lake. If going off-trail now, sled travel is your best bet. If taking your vehicle off plowed roads or trails on area lakes, make sure you have your shovel, tow rope, and appropriate gear along.

Some anglers have ventured out significant distances on some of the lakes this year because of the easy driving access up until about two weeks ago. If you don't have a plow truck to get to yourself, make friends with someone who does!

We will be getting some additional snow, followed by another brutal cold snap to follow the one we just finished up. If we get more of the 30-plus mph wind, we will be looking at challenging travel conditions on the lake again.

Look for the bite to slow during this next cold snap again. Typically the first day or two, fish will be in a very neutral to negative feeding mood. As conditions continue, even with the cold snap, some fish will get active again. The first fish to get active again are the smaller fish, as their metabolism can't sustain them as long as the larger fish

Eventually some of the bigger fish will feed again during the cold snap, but bite windows will be short, only lasting 30-45 minutes a few time a day. You will get some lookers coming in, but may need to work hard to trigger a reaction bite.

Many times when fish are negative, less is more. Subtle jigging or "dead rod" may help to ice a few fish. Downsizing baits and lures like spoons and jigs can help as well.

It is not uncommon for the fish to slide a little deeper, and hold a little tighter to the bottom when conditions are like this. They may not be willing to chase as far either. When fish are fired up under ideal conditions, it is not uncommon to be able to pull them several feet up to your bait, but when they are negative, it can be hard to get them to come up a foot.

When conditions are like this, it is a good idea to let someone know where you are, and what time to expect you to be back home safe. It is smart to check in every so often also. Cell phones are a safety device when conditions are brutal.

Getting stranded in these conditions can be dangerous. Frostbite is a high risk when temps are below zero and we get any wind at all. When we get to double digits below zero or more, it can even be life threatening, especially when the wind blows over 15 mph. Wind chill is a real thing!

The use of a hood in cold conditions makes a big difference, too. Next time you are out in the cold, flip your hood up and feel the difference it makes on your head, ears, face and neck. A warm barrier helps significantly. That is also why we do better in extreme cold weather with no wind.

Stay safe out there! Hopefully we are getting past the brutal stuff for the rest of this ice season.

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)