This will be a bit of a series so you will have to keep checking back to get it all. I hope to have it covered over the next two weeks. Running to shows kind of puts a kink in my line of having it all up sooner.
My earliest recollection of fishing through the ice was some where in the early 70’s.
Our gear was pretty simple; a spool of line, a bobber, hooks, sinkers, worms, Wonderlures, and a Spud. A Spud was nothing more than a weighted bar with a T handle and a four by four sharpened heavy blade on the end. This tool was used to knock a hole in the ice. We’d drop the baited line down the hole, secure the spool of line. Then put the bobber between the ice hole and the spool of line and drag it perpendicular to the ice hole and line spool. Then you’d just wait till you saw the bobber take off across the ice.
We did most of our fishing on the Bear River which as life went on I learned how risky river ice is to be on. This is a good place to talk about ice safety. In my opinion; there is not a fish big enough, or numerous enough to justify putting yourself in sight of death by falling through the ice. (read that again) All of life has risk to it. Some instances of life are riskier than others so take precautions or just don’t go.
There are many factors that go into Ma Nature building good ice. Ice builds depth over time. For the most part good ice is built by storms of snow creating slush and cooling the water and then cold freezing temperatures for days in a row. Then a little thawing and freezing will continue to build ice through the winter. As a rule of thumb higher elevations of water cap sooner. River ice, well that adds a degree of difficulty for establishing safety because of the speed of water movement in the river. Most western wildlife agency’s that promote ice fishing recommend 4-6 inches of ice for a human and suggest 10-12 for snowmobiles and ATV’s. I think I’ll leave my motorized travel on the shore. I’ve never fished the great lakes regions where they drive 4×4’s out on the ice so I won’t even attempt a comment. Using the internet and getting on wildlife agency forums will usually let you know where there is safe ice.
I know of no other way to check the thickness of ice other than to get out on it. And at some time someone has to be a guinea pig. If you want to be that person I’d suggest going in a team of three. Rope the person who draws the short straw and is to venture onto the ice. Drill your first hole (we will talk about ice drills in the next post) just where you can reach and still be on the shore. Four inches is good for me to venture out but I’d rather have six. Then move out thirty feet while your buddies hold you on the line and drill again. Some waters hold springs and that creates movement and warmth in spots, and those spots will not be safe ice. Sometimes the difference in color of the ice will give you a clue to good ice. However after a snow storm those areas may be temporarily covered. My best advice is to wait till you see someone else on the ice and then follow their tracks out.
While the photo of this open water is close to shore. It can show you the color clue of possible bad ice and or springs.
Be conscious of weather conditions. One year a buddy and I were on Bear Lake fishing off the west side. It was one of those days when the “bite” was really on. We knew there was what the locals called a Bear Laker (blizzard) on the way in. We’d already tossed a few fish back and laid a five and seven pounder on the ice for baking. We were caught up in getting a couple fish in the double digits. Growing up in Bear Lake I could gauge pretty well how long it took a Blizzard to hit but we waited just a tad to long because the fishing was so good and it doesn’t happen that often on Bear Lake. We’d pulled up and headed in as the town of Garden City disappeared. We had a quarter of a mile to walk. Some of it was through an area of springs that created open water.
We’d walked out on a snowmobile track. We were about half way off the ice using the same track as a path when the blizzard laid into us. I was leading. Kris was in my back pocket when I stepped off the track and he ran into me. The wind made it necessary to yell and I told him to step back one step. He did and we found the track. Hung a left and got back to land. Had we not been able to recover the track we’d have been better off to put our backs at the wind and huddle to wait out the storm other than to complicate the issue with open water. When we hit solid ground the one side of my face was frozen shut. It was there and then I amped up my judgment ability for messing with ice. I pushed the limit another day on 2 inches, and had absolutely no fun. The lake ice had blown off Thursday and rebuilt. We were standing on it Saturday A.M. Not smart.
When you are out on ice and hear popping and pinging, we call that building. Ice is actually expanding trying to grow. It’s a sound I’ll never get used to, but it indicates there is good ice. On some large waters like at Bear Lake, sometimes it will open a crack and that is a bit interesting if the crack is between you and the shore. After I replace my stomach from my throat, you just walk around it. Spring time and early winter you need to be careful around the edges because the ice gets rotten there from the warmth of the shore line and sun. Small reservoirs in the late fall suffer from the same warming issues and from some filling of water into the reservoir which lifts the ice cap away from the shore and weakens the ice there.
If I were to pick the perfect fishing conditions it would be this:
A minimum of four inches of ice, 30 degrees Fahrenheit at 9:00 a.m. on the front end of a light snow storm either on its way or just starting. The ice will hold you, it is warm, so your line guides don’t ice up. You can get there with a casual morning and the fish seem to be more active on the front end of a storm.