The recent blast of arctic air is growing ice on lakes and ponds over much of Iowa and sending anglers scrambling to prepare their equipment so they can be out for the coveted early ice fishing of the season.
“Ice fishing is one of our great winter sports and is really a fun, social activity best enjoyed with a group of friends,” said Joe Larscheid, chief of fisheries for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Ice fishing is just getting started on a few of the lakes in northern Iowa. Anglers heading out are reminded to check the ice often as they make their way to their favorite fishing spot.
“Even with this cold blast, most Iowa lakes will just now be forming ice and on the northern lakes, there could be pockets of thin ice or places where the geese had kept ice from forming, so it would be wise to check ice thickness as you go out,” Larscheid said. “We also have a heavier blanket of snow across the northern third of the state which will act as insulation from the cold weather and slow ice growth so anglers will need to cut test holes on their way out.”
As a general guide, at a minimum, four inches of quality ice is recommended for fishing and at least five inches for snowmobiles and ATVs.
“Ice thickness is not uniform on any body of water. Things like current and springs slow ice growth. Things that poke through the ice like rocks, trees or docks will conduct heat and make the ice around it less stable,” 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. Make sure to use small baits and light line.
Getting the equipment ready should also include ice safety tips.
“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 for 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 it would be wise to 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 flotation seat cushion for use in case of rescue.