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Stay safe as Iowa lakes freeze over

The recent blast of arctic air is growing ice on lakes and ponds over much of Iowa. Anglers are starting to get out for the popular early ice fishing season.

“Many of us can’t wait to get out on the ice each winter,” said Joe Larscheid, chief of fisheries for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Ice fishing is a fun, inexpensive activity for anglers of all ages to get outdoors and avoid cabin fever.”

The DNR recommends a minimum of four inches of clear ice for fishing and at least five inches for snowmobiles and ATVs. 

“Check ice thickness as you make your way to your favorite fishing spot,” Larscheid said. “Ice conditions change constantly and its thickness can vary across the lake. Trust your instincts – if the ice does not look right, don’t go out.”

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

Safety Tips on the Ice

  • No ice is 100 percent safe.
  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. 
  • Don’t go out alone - if the worst should happen, someone will be there to call for help or to help rescue.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you will return.
  • Check ice thickness as you go out - there could be pockets of thin ice or places where ice recently formed.
  • Avoid off-colored snow or ice. It is usually a sign of weakness.
  • The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process.
  • Bring along these basic items to help keep you safe: hand warmers, ice cleats to help prevent falls, ice picks (wear around your neck) to help you crawl out of the water if you fall in, a life jacket, a floating safety rope, a whistle to call for help, a basic first aid kit and extra dry clothes including a pair of gloves.

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