‘No such thing as good ice’
Staying safe during ice fishing season
As temperatures drop throughout northwest Iowa and its various waterways, some anglers have already began the ice fishing season. With a season of more stable below freezing temperatures nearing, Joe Yarkosky, Iowa Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, encouraged safety at all times on the frozen surfaces, noting safety is never guaranteed whether the ice is thick or thin.
“Ice fishing — especially out here — is such a popular sport and people are excited to go out and ice fish,” Yarkosky said. “Before you go, make sure that you have safe ice. I think a good assumption is assume that there’s no 100 percent sure safe ice out there.
He continued, “Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of situations of people falling through the ice. ... When you get up to some of our bigger lakes West Okoboji, Spirit Lake, ice does funny things. It splits, it separates, there’s ice heaves. A lot of times there’s a lot of dangers that people don’t know of when you have a lot of ice. We usually have several instances each year of people taking pickup trucks in places they maybe shouldn’t take. ATVs and snowmobiles are more common too. Always err on the side of caution.”
Yarkosky shared ways anglers and anyone on a frozen pond or lake can make a judgment on whether or not an area of ice is likely to be dangerous.
“Any ice that has a different color to it may be a sign of a weak area of ice,” Yarkosky said. “Also consider if we have snow that comes over the ice, that’s going to act as an insulator. The ice isn’t going to grow at as fast a rate. It also hides the ice, so you have an inability to see different colors or different areas if there’s variable thickness. This time of year before we get really into the true ice fishing season, there’s a lot of variable thickness to a lot of the ice, we still have open water in a lot of the different areas.”
In addition to regular cold-weather gear, Yarkosky suggested there are many tools which could be useful for those braving the ice this year. The conservation officer encouraged those leaving to fish alone to always speak to someone and explain when they’ll be leaving and when they would return.
“It’s always good if you’re going to go out to bring safety equipment,” Yarkosky said. “Starting with a spud bar or a chisel, so you can test the ice thickness as you move out through the ice. Carrying ice picks, ice augers, make sure those are attached to your jacket and readily accessible. If you want to wear a life jacket, they make bibs and jackets that are also flotation insulated as well so if you do fall in, it’s going to keep you up. Also carrying a whistle if you’re by yourself. I always encourage people to to carry throw bags (a rescue device). If you’re out ice fishing, you can safely utilize that and bring someone to shore.”
Yarkosky said although there are many public areas to ice fish, it is not legal to ice fish inside the city limits of Spencer, which he regularly receives questions about each winter.