I woke up to a heartbreaking story on the news this morning about a couple that fell through the ice on Upper Red Lake in central Minnesota over the weekend. Out of respect for the deceased, I don’t want to pass judgement on their actions. I don’t know the specifics of what happened. My goal in writing this is to prevent tragedies like what happened on Upper Red Lake from happening again.
Upper Red Lake is somewhat of a unique body of water for the area. It has a mean depth of about 12 feet. Because it is so shallow, it is often the first major lake in the area to freeze over. Its popularity as a walleye fishery draws in thousands of ice anglers every year. Upper Red Lake is a good choice for early season ice fishing. However, just because it is the first lake to freeze and it has more ice than other lakes in the area does not mean it should be treated as being any more safe than other lakes at early ice. No ice is safe ice.
The first half of November was colder than average, but the last couple of days have been warmer than average. This warm trend will continue for at least the next week. The warmer than average temperatures will degrade the existing ice on area lakes. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends 4″ of clear, hard ice for walking, 5″ for snowmobiles or ATVs, 8-12″ for cars, and 12-15″ for trucks. These recommendations are minimums and only applicable to clear, hard ice. The Minnesota DNR recommends at least doubling those minimums if the ice is white or snow covered. Given the warm trend over the last few days and in the coming week, I would recommend doubling the recommended minimum thickness or staying off the ice altogether until it gets colder.
I wrote a post two weeks ago about ice safety. These guidelines are applicable all season long, but especially at early ice. Now would be a great time to review some basic ice fishing safety precautions. Please be careful out there, everybody!