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March Mania

Wet, heavy snows causing ice fishing woes

Mike Marjama caught this 4 to 5 pound largemouth bass on a local lake recently. Ice-fishing enthusiasts are facing some unique challenges this year, but those who venture out are catching a variety of fish. Submitted photo

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — Those who enjoy getting out on the ice for some fishing are facing two challenges this year. First, the heavy snow the first weekend in December slowed ice formation. Second, the additional foot of heavy wet snow last weekend compounded the problem, adding three to six inches of wet slush anglers have to trudge through.

Josh Severtson of Park Rapids has been in the area for over 10 years and describes himself as an avid ice fisherman who goes out three to five days a week on average. He said ice on area lakes is definitely thinner than normal at this time of year and that the heavy snow is impacting lakes’ ability to make ice.

“If we had a good amount of ice under the snow right now, we could get big trucks and rigs out there to push the snow around,” he said. “But it’s really limited. We had a nice early ice this year that got people out right around deer season, but at the same time with the early ice that we had, all the snow has been collecting on the lakes since day one, and every inch of snow is that much more insulation and a barrier between the cold weather getting down to the ice to make it form. So, it’s a tough one this year.”

Severtson said there are a couple of ice roads on area lakes, including one on Fish Hook that has been kept plowed since early in the season.

“Guys aren’t traveling off the road,” he said. “The only reason the road is thicker is they’ve had a four-wheeler out there keeping it snow-free, so any of the cold weather we’ve had this year is directly hitting the ice there, which gives it a leap start on building ice compared to areas that have snow and slush on them.”

He said the heavy wet snow that fell this past weekend made conditions much worse.

“The couple of reports I’ve had are that conditions are very wet,” Severtson said. “There’s on average three to six inches of slush on a lot of lakes, with even a bit more in some spots. Waterproof boots are definitely recommended, along with waterproof bibs. Even where there is good ice underneath to walk or snowmobile on the stuff on top being as deep as it is, wet, slushy and heavy is not the easiest to move through. I know there are a lot of guys picking real short walks from shore right out in front of their house or the access, any little area that is easily walkable.”

He said that people who have been getting out on the ice are doing well, mainly catching crappies and walleye. “There were also some guys out spearing some northerns and getting some nice panfish, so kind of a little bit of everything,” he said.

“If you like to drive out on the lake and get a decent ice house out there, this year is going to be far behind (average),” he said. “If we had some good 20-below temperatures coming up, it would be a whole different story.”

Severtson said another factor those going on the lake should keep in mind is that lakes often have multiple freeze layers. “One area might be four inches thick, but then you hit a freeze line where it is three and soon you’re down to one inch,” he said.

When everything is covered with snow, there is no way to see these discrepancies in ice formation.

“You can’t tell what’s thick and what’s not,” he said. “It can get a little hairy with the conditions that we have.”

He said it is safest to stay close to shore and walk out with a sled. In addition, a waterproof ice fishing suit with a floating preservative layer or wearing a life jacket are recommended.

“Bring safety picks and some rope and always go with a buddy,” he said. “Luckily, we have on average enough ice underneath all of this crap to where breakthroughs are not too likely unless someone tries to get out there with a big vehicle like a truck with a plow.”

Severtson said there were people driving trucks and fish houses out on Fish Hook lake this past week.

“They were staying on the road where the ice is nice and thick,” he added. “But a lot of people also pulled their houses off the lake because of the amount of snow we had coming last weekend.”

The weight of heavy snow has to be figured in any equations of how much total weight the ice can hold.

“The foot traffic is solidly safe on pretty much every lake closer to shore,” he said. “Of course, you do have some random river currents and springs on some lakes that are obviously dangers any time of the year. Taking anything out bigger than a (four-wheeler) or snowmobile I wouldn’t recommend right now. And I’ve had numerous guys tell me they’ve had to use a shovel to dig out their four-wheeler or snowmobile out of some deep slush pockets you find here and there.”

Meteorologist Brad Hopkins at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks said because the snow provides an insulating blanket, ice will take a little longer to form on the lakes even when it gets cold.

“We are trending the next couple of weeks a little on the cooler side, so that should be an opportunity for some ice to form between now and February,” he said.