Ice Conditions Remain Challenging in Early Season

By Nick Simonson

With recent winds and warm temperatures, what ice was formed by the cold start to November has disappeared in most parts of the state in December, leaving anglers uncertain as to many bodies of water.  From Devils Lake to Lake Sakakawea and other points in between, it’s a mixed bag of ice conditions – if there is any ice at all – and most baitshops urge caution in light of recent weather.

Brian Feickert of 6 Mile Corner tackleshop in Garrison reports that small lakes around the east end of Lake Sakakawea are fishable, with anywhere from eight to 12 inches of variable ice.

“Fishing has been okay on some of the small lakes like Brekken and Scooby for smaller walleyes,” Feickert advises, and on Lake Audubon, “anglers are doing fairly well in the places where they can fish, but ice conditions there are very variable,” he cautions, stating that 100 yards can mean the difference between eight inches of ice and two inches.

Most of the action on Audubon comes at morning and evening according to Feickert, and if anglers are relegated to daytime hours, they should focus on depths of 25 to 35 feet, but it’s tough to find those places with safe ice at this time.

“We’re going to have some bad ice because of the recent winds, and we need consistent sub-freezing temperatures to starting making a difference,” he stated, “we’re pushing guys to get spud bars, because it’s spooky out there in places; yes, we want guys to go fishing, but be very careful,” he concluded.

In the southeastern portion of the state, ice conditions have been a here-today-gone-tomorrow proposition in recent weeks, according to Gun & Reel Sports’ Al Hust in Jamestown.

“We have reports from people driving by the small Interstate lakes saying they’ve seen people ice fishing one day, and then openwater the next,” Hust reveals.

On the two main lakes north of town – Pipestem and Jamestown Reservoirs – Hust continues the call for caution.

“The ice is kind of iffy,” he relates, “we have some spots of open water and some areas of ice that is four to five inches thick; the weather is working away on it, and even some of the smaller area lakes are opening up again.”

Reports of a somewhat reliable crappie bite on both waters continue where anglers can find suitable ice, with fish up to 12 inches being the norm.

Good news comes from the north and Jill Watson at Four Seasons tackleshop on the shores of Lake Metigoshe, where both the ice and the early season bite are solid.

“There’s anywhere from 11 to 14 inches of ice on the lake, they’re mainly driving snowmobiles and four-wheelers out there,” Watson stated before revealing a solid multi-species bite in the state’s northern tier, “they’re doing really well with some nice walleye and bluegill coming up,” she reported, adding minnows are the ticket for ‘eyes, and waxworms dominate the bluegill bait options.

“There are lots of big northerns coming in too, with one this weekend near 22 pounds that was speared,” Watson stated, “we’re also moving a lot of smelt for tip-up anglers,” she concluded adding that the solid, clear ice has been ideal for those looking to spear pike.

Watson credits cold nights in the Turtle Mountain region with keeping ice strong and stable, while the rest of the state has endured warmer temperatures, and sometimes many consecutive 24-hour spans above freezing.  Since the middle of November, night time temperatures have been below freezing, and during Thanksgiving week, when some parts of the state saw high temperatures in the 70s, Bottineau did not break 50 and still managed to dip back into the teens overnight for lows.  With the lakes locked in ice, recent winds have done little to degrade the quality of the frozen surface in the region.

“That’s one good thing about being so far north,” Watson said with a laugh.

On the larger waters of the northern tier of the state, wind has cut into secure ice, according to John Dircks of Ed’s Bait Shop in Devils Lake.

“About a week before Thanksgiving it was looking really good, then all of a sudden it warmed up and the wind started blowing and hasn’t stopped, if it wasn’t for that we’d be sitting fat and driving in most areas,” Dircks explained, adding that conditions vary from open water to about 10 inches of ice on Devils Lake.

Smaller lakes in the Devils Lake basin are fishable with varying ice thickness on each, and perch and walleye fishing can be good, but anglers should stay safe while keeping mobile.

“Lake Alice and Lake Irvin are where the majority of people are looking,” Dircks advised, “you have to keep moving to find fish,” he concluded, suggesting tungsten jig presentations for perch and Northland Buckshot Rattlespoons tipped with minnow heads for walleyes.

While no forecast over seven days is ever very accurate, recent NOAA model runs have begun to come together, suggesting a colder period over the region from Dec. 22 to Dec. 26 with high temperatures in the single digits and lows below zero several days in a row.  Many anglers wait for those conditions to bring better ice to their favorite lakes.

(Featured Photo: Quality sized bluegills and walleyes are being caught on reliable ice on Lake Metigoshe.  Elsewhere in the state, anglers are struggling to find stable ice due to recent warm, windy conditions. Simonson Photo)

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