It’s freezing, but that ice may not be safe for fishing

It’s freezing, but that ice may not be safe for fishing

With the extreme cold that Iowa has endured this month, our ponds and lakes have developed thick sheets of ice that provide excellent spots for ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and more.

Ice forms at different rates in each body of water, depending on the volume and depth of the water, says Joe Larscheid, chief of fisheries for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. no Ice is 100% safe.

“Parts of the lakes where the snow has been washed off the lakes by the winds, we’re able to produce some really good ice, but anywhere there’s still snow cover, the ice won’t be as thick,” Larscheid says. “This current weather we’re having, especially in southeastern Iowa with the rain and warm temperatures, is going to really dampen conditions.”

New ice is typically stronger than old ice, while river ice is 15% weaker than lake ice, Larscheid says. The DNR recommends at least four inches of good-quality ice for fishing and at least five inches for snowmobiles and ATVs. While he likes six inches of ice, Larscheid says many parts of Iowa are reporting it’s getting thicker.

“There are 8 to 10 inches, even 11 inches in some of the northern Iowa lakes, and those are the safest spots to be in, but again, even in those lakes that have good solid ice, there are weak spots,” Larscheid says. “Rocky points, around bridges and things like that, and where snow accumulates. Snow drifts can create some weak ice under the snow.”

He recommends anglers test the thickness of the ice frequently and trust your instincts — if the ice doesn’t look good, don’t go out. Bluish-colored ice is safer than clear ice, and Larscheid says to avoid melted or honey-combed ice, and to stay away from dark spots on the ice. So how do you know where to go?

“What I recommend is talking to local bait shops, talking to some local anglers, getting on our website, looking at the fishing reports, and our current ice conditions,” Larscheid says. “Be careful. Look at the thickness and see if it’s getting thinner. When you’re fishing on a warm, sunny day, I’d be more careful than if you’re making ice on a cold day.”

The DNR’s fishing report is released every Thursday, with dozens and dozens of icefish reports.

Other tips from the agency:

  • Don’t go out alone. If the worst happens, someone will be there to call for help or to assist in a rescue.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Bring these essential items with you to help keep you safe: hand warmers, ice cleats to help prevent falls, ice picks (wear around your neck) to help you crawl out of the water if you fall, a life jacket, and a buoyancy safety rope. A whistle to call for help, a basic first aid kit and extra dry clothes including a pair of gloves.

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