Outdoors column: A challenging beginning to the ice fishing season

It’s hard to believe that with all the extreme cold we have experienced so far this winter that there would be anything but good hard clear ice for ice fishing. Depending on what part of the state you live in, you may have great conditions, but for that part of the state which received the one foot plus snowfall mid-December, the ice is as unpredictable as I have seen in a very long time.

Staying mobile this year maybe the only option for many anglers. Submitted photo
Staying mobile this year maybe the only option for many anglers. Submitted photo

Have just returned from a scouting mission to place my permanent wheel house out in the Brainerd Lakes area, I was shocked to see what has turned out to be extremely difficult conditions. Just driving past Mille Lacs Lake was clue enough that the conditions were prohibiting folks from putting their permanent shelters on the ice creating small ice villages which dot the landscape across the frozen water.

Even the resorts had their rental units and sleepers lined up on dry ground waiting for the lake offer acceptable conditions.

One of the biggest indicators on the big pond is that there was no sign of any type of plowed roads or access points being open for people to use.

All I saw was water filled snowmobile tracks trying to get to hopefully a safe fishing location. From all the reports I have seen and heard, these unpredictable conditions cover a wide swath of Minnesota ranging from the West Central sections of the state right up through and beyond the Leech Lake Walker area right up to the Northeast sections of the state.

What caused the perfect scenario for such miserable slushy condition was that the lakes which received the heavy snowfall had minimal ice when the snow fell.

The heavy weight of the snow pushes down the ice causing water to sit on top of the ice.

With a good foot of snow on top insulating the ice from the extreme cold weather, the ice will not thicken enough to allow safe travel.

These slushy conditions make lake travel extremely difficult not just for cars, but ATV’s and snowmobiles are also challenged by these harsh, less than ideal conditions.

What I did see on my scouting trip was fisher folks not being deterred by the poor conditions.

They were pulling their portable fish shelters out to the closest piece of structure, or the first break-lines on most lakes.

This limited travel, or those willing to take an ill-advised risk venturing further out onto the lakes challenging the slushy conditions, will be how the conditions improve.

Once the water that is below the heavy snows is exposed to the cold air by either foot compactions, snowmobile or four-wheeler track, it will freeze up pretty darn quick.

What you have to keep in mind is that once you get off the beaten path, you will more often than not run into more slushy conditions. For that reason, folks who are heading out onto the lake must take some extra precautions this year.

First and foremost, check the ice thickness before you venture to far out onto the lake.

Also be prepared to get wet feet this year.

You may want to put your feet into a plastic bag before you venture out.

If you get stuck in the slush, your feet are going to get wet unless you are prepared.

If you are on a four-wheeler, chains are a must.

A set of chains can make the difference of really being stuck, or being able to get back to shore safely. And foremost, have a shovel handy.

I have found that a small fold up plastic scoop shovel comes in handy all the time.

Even if you don’t need it to get yourself out of a predicament, it sure works well banking up my portable to keep the wind out.

Fishing conditions are going to be challenging for many folks who aren’t prepared for the elements.

Even those who are seasoned veterans are finding out that this early ice and snow isn’t as good as you would think.

Take your time, stop at the local bait shop and ask about the conditions on your favorite lake before venturing into a potentially difficult situation.

Be safe.

Jeff Weaver is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.