Ice fishing is certainly a hot topic in North Dakota this year.

I can’t remember a year when I’ve heard so much positive chatter, and many anglers, who haven’t yet ventured out to their favorite lake or a promising new destination, are waiting in anticipation of good ice to get their winter fishing season started.

And with good reason. North Dakota has a record number of lakes on the landscape and a lot of them have good populations of walleye, perch and northern pike.

From Wahpeton to Williston and Reynolds to Reeder and everywhere in between, ice anglers are wishing for winter to hurry up and come back. Heading into mid-December, ice conditions are unpredictable on many waters. Though the first reports of people venturing out on the ice this year came a couple of days before deer gun season, that cold start to November has moderated so much that ice conditions have deteriorated on many waters, particularly in the southern half of the state.

As such, we’ve trended back toward square one when it comes to early ice safety reminders.

So whenever that next real winter cold wave arrives, and it surely will, here’s some guidelines from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

• Snow insulates ice, hampering solid ice formation, and makes it difficult to check thickness. Snow also hides the blemishes, such as cracked, weak and open water areas.

• Avoid cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signal thinner ice. The same goes for ice that forms around partially submerged trees, brush, embankments or other structures.

• Ice thickness is not always consistent and can vary significantly even within a small area. Ice shouldn’t be judged by appearance alone. Anglers should drill test holes as they make their way out on the lake, and use an ice chisel to check ice thickness while moving around.

• Daily temperature changes cause ice to expand and contract, affecting its strength.

• The following minimums are recommended for travel on clear-blue lake ice formed under ideal conditions. However, early in the winter it’s a good idea to double these figures to be safe: 4 inches for a group walking single file; 6 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle; 8 to 12 inches for an automobile; and 12 to 15 inches for a pickup.

• If someone does break through the ice, call 911 immediately. Rescue attempts should employ a long pole, board, rope, blanket or snowmobile suit. If that’s not possible, throw the victim a life jacket, empty water jug or other buoyant object.

• To treat hypothermia, replace wet clothing with dry clothing and immediately transport victim to a hospital.

These tips aren’t meant to scare anyone away from going on the ice, but it is still a time of year when we should thoroughly assess ice conditions before venturing out.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. His blog is at dougleier.areavoices.com.

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