Guidelines for First Ice

Doug Leier

By Doug Leier

Even with extreme drought, North Dakota continues to enjoy “the good old days” of fishing, no matter the time of year. A historical comparison from as recently as the mid-1980s when there were 150 or so managed lakes on the landscape to 400-plus now, North Dakota anglers have many fishing opportunities that support strong populations of walleye, perch and/or northern pike.

From Wahpeton to Williston, Reynolds to Reeder and everywhere in between, ice anglers are wishing for winter to hurry up and arrive, because heading into mid-December, ice conditions are unpredictable on many waters in any given year.

As such, we’ve sort of trended back toward square one when it comes to early ice safety reminders. So, whenever that next real winter cold wave arrives, and it surely will, here are some guidelines from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department:

• Snow insulates ice, hampering solid ice formation, and makes it difficult to check thickness. Snow also hides the blemishes, such as cracked, weak and open water areas.

• Avoid cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signal thinner ice. The same goes for ice that forms around partially submerged trees, brush, embankments or other structures.

• Ice thickness is not always consistent and can vary significantly even within a small area. Ice shouldn’t be judged by appearance alone. Anglers should drill test holes as they make their way out on the lake and use an ice chisel to check ice thickness while moving around.

• Daily temperature changes cause ice to expand and contract, affecting its strength.

• The following minimums are recommended for travel on clear-blue lake ice formed under ideal conditions. However, early in winter it’s a good idea to double these figures to be safe: 4 inches for a group walking single file; 6 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle; 8-12 inches for an automobile; and 12-15 inches for a pickup/truck.

• If someone does break through the ice, call 911 immediately. Rescue attempts should employ a long pole, board, rope, blanket or snowmobile suit. If that’s not possible, throw the victim a life jacket, empty water jug or other buoyant object.

• To treat hypothermia, replace wet clothing with dry clothing and immediately transport victim to a hospital.

These tips aren’t meant to scare anyone away from going on the ice, but it is still a time of year when we all should thoroughly assess ice conditions before venturing out.

Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.

Featured Photo: It’s important to check ice thickness early in the season when venturing out, using a spud bar or auger. NDG&F Photo.

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