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First ice in Iowa Great Lakes area

December 12, 2009
by Steve Weisman - Outdoor Editor

It's coming-slowly but surely: ice fishing. Several days of lows in the single digits to the mid-teens and highs in the upper 20s will do that, especially to the shallow bays and smaller lakes.

With the forecast for continued sub-freezing temperatures this week, by the time you read this article on Saturday, my bet is there will be people venturing to a lot of areas on the ice. Even last weekend, anglers were already making their way out at the Grade and Upper Gar. Ice thickness varied but when I checked just off the Upper Gar boat ramp late Saturday afternoon it appeared to be a little over two inches thick. That certainly increased Saturday night and Sunday as temperatures remained in the single digits to mid-teens.

The first ice is so tempting and the bite can be so good that we often push the button on safety. As DNR officials always tell me: there is never any sure-fire bet that ice is safe. Because, as we all know, all ice is not the same. For any variety of reasons it can be a few inches thick in one spot, a foot deep in another and just a skim in another.

That's why it is best to err on the side of caution and make sure the ice is good. The first time you venture on the ice, it is a good idea to check the depth as you go out, whether you use a spud bar or a hand auger. Here is a guide to give an idea of what good ice can hold.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources follows the general guidelines tabulated by the Lumbermen's Safety Association and other sources and should be considered minimum thickness guidelines:

Several factors go into this, the first of which is whether it is clear ice and whether it has a layer of snow on top. Clear ice with no snow for insulation will have the greatest strength and will thicken the fastest during freezing conditions.

Always be careful of points and rocks. They can be very treacherous. The same holds true around and out from bridge areas where there is a current.

For me, I try to make it a rule to have 4 inches of ice before I venture out. It's amazing how thin 4 inches of ice looks when you cut through it and clear the ice shavings out with the dipper.



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