Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Minn.

Dec. 30, 2002

No ice is ever 100 percent totally safe

For many, ice fishing is more than just fishing, it is tradition and simply something to do during long, cold winters and even during winters that aren't so cold.

During my youth, ice fishing was a holiday tradition. Every Christmas Eve day, my dad would take my twin sister and me out to our old six-foot by 10-foot fish house for a morning and early afternoon of ice fishing.

The house always went to a lake in the area, like Mary, Ida, Ann, Dog, or John. Although we often caught fish, the main purpose for ice fishing on Christmas Eve day was to get us out of my mom's hair so she could get ready for Christmas.

Lunch was always hotdogs wrapped in tin foil and cooked on the old oil burning stove that heated the fish house. The hotdogs were great, and so are the memories.

That's part of my ice fishing history.

This year many more memories are being made out on the frozen lakes. So far, the hottest lake of the young winter season has been Mary.

Mary has been giving up a few good-sized walleyes, fair numbers of crappies, and a few sunfish and northern pike. The real story has been the fast walleye bite.

Although the fishing has been good on Mary, many of the walleyes coming off the lake are small and in the 10- to 12-inch range. This has several members of the area concerned.

Those concerned believe many of the small walleye are the same fish that were released into the lake as walleye fingerlings in the past few years.

The stocking was done by the Lake Mary Home Owners Association, and the association would like anglers fishing Mary to please let the walleyes grow a bit larger before they are harvested from the lake.

In other ice fishing action, Joe's Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake reported that Big Waverly is giving up crappies and and a few walleyes.

The walleye action on Howard has been fair, and the crappie bite is just starting to pick up. Joe's also reported there is eight to 12 inches of ice on our area lakes, but conditions do vary from lake to lake.

Dave Groff of Lil' Angie's Bait and Tackle at the Porthole in Lester Prairie reported that Mary has been the hot lake, with anglers getting a few nice walleyes mixed in with the small ones, and some fair crappie action.

Ida has been giving up good numbers of small crappies and sunfish. Dog Lake has been slow, and on Waconia, anglers have been catching panfish in the bays.

This winter, Lil' Angie's will be open from 10 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, and will be occasionally open Sundays.

No such thing as 100 percent safe ice

From the DNR

Before venturing out on a frozen lake or pond keep in mind that there is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.

Four inches of new clear ice is the minimum thickness for travel on foot, five inches is minimum for snowmobiles and ATVs, and eight to 12 inches is needed for cars or small trucks.

(Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.)

Some tips:

· Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop. You can test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger, or even a cordless quarter-inch drill with a long bit.

· Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible. If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry. Keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt, and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.

· Stay away from alcoholic beverages. Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life.

And, contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.

· Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile's headlight. At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines.

Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was travelling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.

· Wear a life vest under your winter gear, or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits.

It's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well-stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers.

It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice, while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water.

The ice picks really help to pull yourself back onto solid ice.

Caution ­ do not wear a flotation device when travelling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle!

New regulations aimed at growing bigger northern pike

From the DNR

The chance of catching a large northern pike in certain Minnesota lakes should increase in coming years, thanks to special regulations set to take effect on 66 inland lakes and one stream when the Minnesota's 2003 fishing season opens in May, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Anglers who commented on the long-term decline of large northern pike in Minnesota's lakes prompted the regulations. In response, DNR fisheries managers compiled a list of 75 lakes with potential to grow larger northern pike if special regulations were implemented.

That list was pared down to 66 lakes after a public comment period and DNR staff review. Each of the lakes chosen will be regulated by one of the following size limits:

· 24- to 36-inch protected slot, in which all fish between 24 and 36 inches must be immediately released

· 30-inch minimum, in which all fish less than 30 inches must be immediately released

· 40-inch minimum, in which all fish less than 40 inches must be immediately released.

The characteristics of the northern pike population were used to determine which regulation would be implemented on an individual lake.

The 24- to 36-inch protected slot will cover lakes with abundant spawning habitat that could benefit from a harvest of small northern pike and have the potential to grow medium to large northern pike.

The 30-inch minimum size limit covers lakes with medium to low densities of northern pike that have the potential to produce medium to large northern pike.

The 40-inch minimum size limit will be used on lakes with quality northern pike populations that could produce trophy northern pike.

Originally, the DNR had intended to implement special northern pike regulations on 30 to 50 lakes, but broad public support prompted DNR fisheries managers to propose more lakes, according to Ron Payer, director of the DNR division of fisheries.

"The decline in northern pike size has been well documented," Payer said. "Anglers gave us a strong mandate to do something and there was a lot of interest in special regulations on targeted lakes."

The additional 66 lakes and one stream brings the total number of Minnesota lakes with special regulations for northern pike to 98 ­ still less than one percent of the 4,000 Minnesota lakes with northerns.

Fisheries managers will continue to evaluate additional lakes that would benefit from special northern pike regulations, although Payer said additions will be limited.

Spearing will not be banned from lakes with special regulations, unless it is banned under existing regulations. However, length restrictions make it challenging for spearing enthusiasts because it can be difficult to judge the size of a fish underwater.

Northern pike special regulation lakes:

24- to 36-inch protected slot (All fish between 24 and 36 inches must be immediately released.)

Carver Co. ­ Ann

Meeker Co. ­ Minnie Belle

Aitkin Co. ­ Long

Beltrami Co. ­ Beltrami, Big Lake, Big Turtle, Campbell, Deer, Fox, Little Turtle, Movil, Three Island, Turtle River Lake

Becker Co. ­ Big Floyd, Cotton, Little Floyd

Cass Co. ­ Ada, Child, Girl, Little Boy, Little Woman, Wabedo, Woman, Unnamed (Louise)

Chisago Co. ­ North Center, South Center

Cook Co. ­ Little Cascade (Cook)

Crow Wing Co. ­ Lower Mission, Upper Mission

Douglas Co. ­ Latoka (Douglas)

Hubbard Co. ­ Big Mantrap, George

Itasca Co. ­ Island (near Northome), North Star

Kanabec Co. ­ Knife

Lake Co. ­ Basswood, Farm, Garden, South Farm, North Branch Kawishwi River (4.8 miles, from farm to first portage, T63,R10,S28)

Morrison Co. ­ Alexander, Fish Trap, Shamineau

Otter Tail Co. ­ West Battle

St. Louis Co. ­ Ash, Birch Lake Reservoir, Caribou, White Iron, Vermilion

Todd Co. ­ Long

Wadena Co. ­ Blueberry

Washington Co. ­ Big Carnelian

Wright Co. ­ Mink, Somers

30-inch minimum (All fish less than 30 inches must be immediately released.)

Cook Co. ­ Loon

Crow Wing Co. ­ Round

Otter Tail Co. ­ Otter Tail

St. Louis Co. ­ Prairie

40 inch minimum (All fish less than 40 inches must be immediately released.)

Crow Wing Co. ­ Mitchell

Hubbard Co. ­ Fifth Crow Wing, Sixth Crow Wing, Eighth Crow Wing, Ninth Crow Wing, 10th Crow Wing

Morrison Co. ­ Cedar

St. Louis Co. ­ Elephant

Regulation to be determined

Todd Co. ­ Bass

Outdoor notes

­ Please remember that no ice is ever completely safe. Anglers should also pay special attention to lakes in the area that are being aerated and have open water.

­ The Howard Lake Sportsmen's Club will meet Monday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., at the Howard Lake Legion Club.

­ The Howard Lake Sportmen's Club 57th annual fishing derby is set for Saturday, Feb. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Howard Lake.

The grand prize in this year's drawing is a deluxe King Crow fish house on wheels. The fish house is on display at Joe's Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake. Tickets are available at Joe's and also from club members.

­ Nick Machemehl from Lester Prairie, with help from his older brother Ben, called to report a bald eagle taking a live Canada goose from the wildlife enclosure at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club.

­ The Lester Prairie Sportmen's Club will meet Monday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. at the clubhouse.

­ Although daytime temperatures have hit the 40s, the ice on our area lakes should remain in good shape. With cold nights, it should get thicker.

­ I'll hopefully be doing a lot of hunting and fishing in the new year, with the blessings of my wife. She gave me a food saver for Christmas, and now all I need is something to freeze, like fish or a few pheasants.

­ Don't double trip. When the fish are biting hard on a given lake, it can become very easy for anglers to head back to the lake after they have already taken home a limit of fish. All anglers have to remember that a daily limit is just that ­ a daily limit.

­ Make sure your fish house is in good shape and ready to go for the season. Your heater should be checked, cleaned, and in good working order. The house should be properly ventilated and fish houses are now required to have reflective material on each side.

­ Take a kid fishing ­ they will have fun, and so will you.

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