With cold temperatures, sheets of ice are creeping out from shore on area lakes.
As it does, both Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch and Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl issue the same warning: The ice is never safe.
In the spring, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages a map on its website to show updated information on where the ice is out, but the same is not true for fall ice-in. While there is an ice-in map on the website, it’s not updated in real time.
“We don’t want to let anybody think that it’s safe to go out on (the ice). You don’t want to use the (map) as a green light,” said Greg Spoden, DNR climatologist.
The other reason the DNR doesn’t update the ice-in map regularly is because ice-in is difficult to determine. Lake ice comes and goes in the fall, Spoden said. Usually the DNR gets its data on ice-in months later, and uses the map as an after-the-fact record.
The DNR acknowledges in its records that the definition of ice-in can vary from lake to lake and individual to individual.
“It’s not like ice out — it’s pretty obvious when the ice goes out,” Spoden said.
The rough guideline is that the ice will be in anywhere from mid-November to mid-December, depending on how big the lake is, how deep it is and how much wind it gets.
The DNR recommends checking with local bait shops for the conditions on the lake, and to check the ice. Four inches is needed to walk out on the ice, according to the DNR.
More safety information is available online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice/. The website includes directions on getting out of a vehicle that’s gone through the ice, how to make ice rescue claws and how to help someone who’s gone through the ice.
Burch encourages people to stay off the lakes until there’s a good solid base of ice, adding that the ice is never safe.
“If they do venture out, check the ice thickness and make sure someone knows where they are,” he said. “This is the time of year when you really worry because the ice really is not safe.
“There’s always somebody who seems to venture out right after the lakes freeze. They must really like fish,” he said.
Dahl echoed Burch’s advice.
“In one spot you could have 12 inches, and two feet away you could have two inches,” Dahl said.
Those venturing out on the ice are not just endangering themselves.
“People have to take into account not only their own life but the people who come out to rescue them. They’re putting a lot of lives in jeopardy if they do need to be rescued,” he said.
Sheree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait south of Nisswa, predicts that fishermen in need of four inches of ice could be walking out the weekend after Thanksgiving. Of course, they must measure before they walk out.
In the past, there was a 75 percent chance the lakes would be frozen by Thanksgiving.
“Nowadays it’s 50-50,” Wicktor said. This year looks pretty average given the last 10 years, in her estimation.
“If you’re an ice fisherman, we’ve had a good start,” Spoden said. “We should start to form ice on lakes but the winds will be one of the factors that will prevent some of them. We’ll have to wait and see.”