by Judson Tharin

Bemidji, MN—Ice anglers ventured onto area lakes over the weekend—marking the start to the ice-fishing season.

“There is something about it, just sitting in the house on the lake gets me excited,” student Neil Mourning said.  “I went out to Lake Irving this past weekend.  We caught a few perch and a small walleye.  It was nothing special, but it was a good first time out.”

Although there is no such thing as “safe” ice, Mourning reported he was fishing on about 4 1/2-inches.  Lake Bemidji, a connecting water to Lake Irving is still fully open with no ice cover.  Shallow and small lakes, like Irving, tend to freeze faster.

“Ice thickness can vary depending on the lake, depending on springs in the lake, and depth of the lake,” Jason Riggs, Beltrami County Sherriff.  “4-inches is generally pretty good for walking.  5-7-inches for snowmobile and ATV traffic.  8-12-inches for small cars and at least a foot or more for a medium size pick-up truck.”  Riggs expressed that anglers should go with a buddy or in a group, and to always notify someone if you’re planning on going onto a lake to ice fish.

Fishing guide Dick Beardsley is aware of the rewards and the dangers of early ice.  “You know, the early season ice gets me excited, because usually the fishing is really good, but also you have to be cautious.  You know, there are times when I’ll actually put a life jacket on!”

Beardsley shared the two essential tools that help him stay safe during early ice.  One is something he called a spud bar.  It is a solid-metal pole that comes to a point—roughly 5-feet in length— that is thrusted into the ice in order to check its strength.  Next are ice picks.  Ice picks should be slung around the angler’s neck or chest for easy access.  If you were to fall through the ice, the picks provide grip helping you to gain more leverage when escaping the freezing waters.

There really is no sure answer to what is safe ice and what isn’t.  Take precautions.  Always use a spud bar and be equipped with ice picks.  Local bait shops are a good resource to find real-time ice thicknesses as well.  “There is no fish or lake that’s worth going in the water for, that’s just that.” Beardsley concluded.

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