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Ice safety reminder as Iowa lakes freeze over

The recent blast of arctic air is growing ice on lakes and ponds over much of Iowa and sending anglers out for the popular early ice fishing of the season.

“Ice fishing is one of our great winter sports. It is a fun, social activity best enjoyed with a group of friends,” said Joe Larscheid, chief of fisheries for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Anglers heading out are reminded to check the ice often as they make their way to their favorite fishing spot. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommends a minimum of four inches of quality ice for fishing and at least five inches for snowmobiles and ATVs. 

“Check ice thickness as you go out. Ice thickness is not uniform on anybody of water. There could be pockets of thin ice or places where the geese had kept ice from forming,” Larscheid said.

Early ice offers an excellent chance for success.  If fish are finicky, plan to cut a series of holes and spend 15 minutes at each hole targeting active fish. Use small baits and light line. 

“Now that we have ice, we need to go through our mental safety check list.  Go with a friend and be sure to cut some test holes to check ice thickness as you go out,” Larscheid said. 

Safety Tips on the Ice

  • There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.
  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. 
  • Ice fishing is a social activity, don’t go out alone. If the worst should happen, someone would be there to call for help or to rescue.
  • There could be pockets of thin ice or places where ice recently formed, so check ice thickness as you go out.
  • Avoid off-colored snow or ice. It is usually a sign of weakness.
  • The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process.
  • Safety items in the bucket: Ice picks, about 50 feet of rope and a throwable floatation seat cushion for use in case of rescue.

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