You may be one of those people who avoid going outside at all when it turns cold — but there are many Iowans who like to throw on the thermal underwear and head out once ice starts to form on the nearest lake or pond.
DNR Fisheries Bureau Chief, Joe Larscheid understands how they feel. “With the recent cold snap people are going to get anxious, they are gonna wanna try ice fishing. That first ice is usually strong — but you’ve got to be careful,” Larschied warns.
He says don’t let your enthusiasm overrule your caution in making sure the ice conditions are safe. He says you should start out close to shore and poke a few holes very close to shore to see how thick the ice is. Larscheid says you need at least four inches of ice — and he prefers six inches — to really be safe. After you determine the ice close to shore is okay, then he says you can go further out and if there is good solid four to six inches of ice, you are going to be safe.
Larscheid says even with the recent snowstorm, many of the lakes and ponds are clear of snow. That’s a nice for making ice. “When you have a lot of snow on top of newly formed ice it acts as an insulating factor and actually prevents ice from growing as fast as it would without that insulating blanket of snow,” according to Larschied. “So, in the absence of snow and with good freezing nights and freezing days — we can start to grow ice pretty well.”
He says you shouldn’t let your guard down even if you find what appears to be perfect conditions for ice fishing. Be alert to what lurks beneath the ice. “Ice is never 100 percent safe. There could be thin sections of ice due to flowing currents and things like that –especially on rivers. And around breaks and jetties and things like that, you can have thin ice. So, it’s never perfectly safe,” Larschied explains.
You can be sure your ice fishing adventure is safer by preparing before you go out. “Have some kind of inflatable cushion with you when go out. And you can sit on that cushion when you’re fishing on a bucket, so it serves another purpose. And that helps if you go in then you can have a cushion,” Larscheid says. “If you can wear a flotation coat or any kind of flotation personal device, that’s even better. It’s better to go out in pairs and let people know where you are at and so if you are late coming back, they know to start looking for you.”
He also suggests you bring along 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 in. A floating safety rope and a whistle to call for help along with a basic first aid kit and extra dry clothes including a pair of gloves are also things to take with you on your ice fishing excursion.