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Stay safe on the ice this winter

  • 1/16/2024 3:10:00 PM
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With cold weather finally arriving in Iowa and freezing over lakes and ponds, ice fishing activity has begun at certain northern lakes.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resource (DNR) reminds all anglers - especially those in central and southern Iowa - to stay patient and allow ice thickness to grow before heading to their favorite ice fishing spot.

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

Ice forms at different rates on each body of water depending upon the size and water depth. Once frozen, conditions change constantly and ice thickness can vary across the lake. Rocks, trees, docks or other things that poke through the ice will conduct heat and make the ice around it less stable. The DNR recommends that anglers test the ice thickness frequently and to trust your instincts – if the ice does not look right, don’t go out.

A blanket of snow on top of an ice-covered lake insulates the ice, slowing the growth of ice and hiding potential hazards or weak spots. River ice is 15 percent weaker than lake ice.  Ice with a bluish color is safer than clear ice.  Avoid slushy or honey-combed and stay away from dark spots on the ice.  Don’t walk into areas where the snow cover looks discolored.

Safety Tips on the Ice

  • No ice is 100 percent safe.
  • New ice is usually stronger than old ice. 
  • Check the DNR weekly fishing report for current ice conditions on lakes and rivers across Iowa.
  • 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 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.