Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Jan. 16, 2006

Marginal ice – marginal winter

I’m not quite sure anymore, but I know it was sometime in the mid-’90s, my big 8’x12’ fish house was engulfed in snow on Howard Lake.
Roads that had been plowed on the lake were basically drifted shut, and moving the fish house even just a few yards was difficult, getting it completely off the lake near impossible.

It was early February and our mission that day was to get the fish house off the lake, or at least ready to get off the lake.

The temperature was darn cold, the wind was howling, and although it was nasty, it was just kind of another Minnesota winter day.

The only real good part about that day was the near 20 inches of good solid ice that was under our feet and covering Howard Lake.

Now, what happened? It seems like what was a typical Minnesota winter season or day doesn’t even exist anymore, and we’re faced with another season of marginal snow conditions, and a year of the poorest ice conditions that I can ever remember.

Tim Smalley, DNR water safety specialist put it this way, “We’ve had some odd years with ice conditions, but this one takes the cake.”

In our area, Smalley is referring to ice conditions that can vary from open water in certain spots on some lakes to eight or nine inches of ice in certain spots on other lakes, and a year where vehicle traffic, cars and trucks, probably won’t happen.

In my local ice fishing experiences, I cannot remember another year when we weren’t able to drive on the ice at some point in the season.

Also, the ice we do have is poor quality ice. Most of it is white and slushy, not clear and solid. Because of that, and the existing snow, the odds of ice conditions improving dramatically, even with a stretch of cold weather, are slim.

Finally, the second week of January, which is now past, is typically the coldest week of the year, and average temperatures rise after that.

After that year in the mid-’90s, and the adventure of getting that fish house off the lake, my brother-in-law and father convinced me to sell the house. I regretted it every year, until this one.

60th annual Howard Lake fishing derby coming

The Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club 60th annual fishing derby is set for Saturday, Feb. 11 on Howard Lake, starting at 2 p.m. and running to 4 p.m.

The grand prize is a deluxe fish house on wheels; first prize is a gas ice auger; with second and third place prizes being framed prints.

Prior to the start of the fishing derby, there will be a chili feed from 10 a.m. to noon at the Country Store in Howard Lake, while supplies last.

Second annual Montrose-Waverly ice festival and fishing derby set

The second annual Montrose-Waverly Chamber of Commerce ice festival and ice fishing derby is set to take place Saturday, Jan. 28 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the American Legion Waterfront Park on Big Waverly Lake.

Food and beverages will be served by the Waverly Lions, along with coffee, hot chocolate, and donuts that will be served by the Montrose/Waverly Ambassadors.

A general raffle, featuring $100 in Montrose Waverly Community Bucks and more than 100 donated prizes by area businesses, will also take place at the event.

Sleigh rides, sled dog rides sponsored by the Waverly Lake Association, a Wright County Water Rescue presentation, games, and a $50 medallion hunt sponsored by the Waverly and Montrose Booster Clubs are also set to take place.

A new event in 2006 will be bowling on ice, sponsored by Montrose Lions. Golf on the ice will also be taking place, along with a bonfire sponsored by Waverly and Montrose fire departments.

Weather permitting, ice skatingwill be part of the fun, sponsored by City of Waverly. The KRWC Road Show will broadcast live from the event, which will also feature the new “Money hole.”

For more information, contact Kent Houston at (763) 658-4417 ext. 35, or Jim Tourville at (763) 675-3121, or visit online

Kingston Lions fishing contest

The Kingston Lions’ fishing contest is Saturday, Feb. 4 on Lake Francis from 1 to 3 p.m.

Youth and young adult snowmobile safety course today

Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club will sponsor a snowmobile safety course at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club.

Registration is set for today, Jan. 16 from 6 to 6:15 p.m. at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club.

Coursework will follow from 6:15 to 9 p.m., and Monday, Jan. 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm..

The written and driving tests are tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 28.

All residents of Minnesota born after Dec. 31, 1976 must have a snowmobile safety certificate to operate a snowmobile anywhere in Minnesota.

The course is also for youth or young adults ages 12 and older.

A fee of $6 will be collected for the cost of materials and mailing, as well as a parent/guardian signature.

For additional information, call Sheldon Ehrke (320) 395-2344.

DNR provides guidelines for vehicles on ice
From the DNR

With the unseasonably warm temperatures in Minnesota, ice thicknesses on lakes, ponds and streams vary from open water to 14 inches or more in the northern part of the state.

On lakes in the southern half of the state, several cars, pickups and SUVs have fallen through the ice. Snowmobiles have even broken through the ice.

“To date, no one has been killed, but that has been more due to luck than anything else,” said Tim Smalley, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) water safety specialist.

Most vehicles that have gone through the ice so far have been parked too close together for current ice conditions, according to Smalley.

“Normally, by now, folks would be driving on the ice with few problems, but we are having an abnormal year,” he said.

Ice is not really very solid, like blacktop or concrete on the ground. Smalley said it might be better to think about the surface of a frozen lake as thinly rolled dough stretched over a hoop. Place a large marble on the dough and, like ice, it sags in the middle, but it doesn’t break.
“If you put enough marbles next to each other on the dough, eventually it’s going to give way,” Smalley said.

The Koochiching County Sheriff’s Office closed Rainy Lake in northern Minnesota Dec. 27 to car and truck traffic due to poor ice conditions. “If it’s that bad on the Canadian border waters, imagine what it’s like on some of the lakes farther south,” Smalley said. “If we get a nice cold snap, conditions could improve in a few days.”

Scientists who study ice recommend parking passenger-size vehicles 60 feet apart on eight inches of new clear ice, not the door-to-door parking lot style that is often seen on Minnesota lakes. Another issue is that much of the ice now is white or “milky” ice rather than the stronger clear ice.

“The milky appearance comes from air bubbles trapped in between ice crystals, which weakens the ice considerably,” Smalley said. “You need twice as much of the white as you do clear ice.”

Guidelines recommend a bare minimum of eight inches of new clear ice for small- to medium-size cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. Since white ice is only half as strong as clear ice, a vehicle this winter may need 16 or more inches of ice.

DNR officials recommend that people who are planning a day on the ice check with a local bait shop or resort on the lake where they are headed for the most current ice conditions.

For those who must drive on the ice, the DNR offers these safety tips.

• Check the ice often, at least every 150 feet, or more often if the ice thicknesses are found to be quite variable.

• Leave at least 60 feet between vehicles parked on ice and drill a hole in the ice near your car. If water overflows the edges of the hole, move the vehicle immediately; it is starting to sink. Also, if you see concentric cracks circling around the perimeter of the vehicle, it is time to move it.

• Don’t drive on the ice at night if at all possible; a newly-opened hole might not be visible in low light conditions.

• Leave windows down, seatbelts unbuckled, and doors ajar for a quick exit if the vehicle breaks through.

• Drive across wet cracks in the ice as close to perpendicular as possible and assume the ice strength is one-half that of new, solid clear ice.

• Bail out as soon as the car starts to break through. Don’t wait for it to settle to the bottom. Cars often turn upside down as they sink, which, combined with freezing water, make breath-holding more difficult and limit visibility. Mud pushing against the doors can make escape nearly impossible.

• Don’t drive faster than 15 miles per hour. Faster speeds can cause waves in the ice, much like a boat’s wake in the summer, that can cause already weak ice to shatter.

• If there has been a recent large snowstorm, the added weight of the snow represents an added stress on the ice. Heavy snow may force the top of the ice to become submerged. Water then seeps up through surface cracks, causing a layer of slush. Until the slush refreezes, keep vehicles off the ice.

For more information on ice safety, contact the Minnesota DNR at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367). Those with Internet access can go to

DNR question of the week
From the DNR

Q: With the relatively mild winter we have been having lately are there any ice safety tips for anglers to remember before they head out on a frozen lake?

A: Presently, the ice condition of many lakes throughout the state is not good. Some areas that are traditionally frozen over by now with 18 inches or more of ice are only half that thickness or less.

It typically takes a week of near-zero temperatures to harden and thicken the ice. Thus, anglers or anyone else should take all necessary precautions before venturing out onto a frozen lake, or, perhaps, wait until temperatures become more winter-like.

Thickness guidelines for new clear ice that are used in the early part of the season really do not apply right now, as the ice is so soft and slushy in much of the state.

White ice is only about half as strong as clear ice, so when 8 inches would normally be acceptable for a small car, now you might need 16 inches or more to support that same weight.

The DNR highly recommends calling the local bait shops to find out the most current ice conditions of where you plan to fish or recreate.

Conservation officer tales-January 2006
From the DNR

Conservation Officer (CO) Mike Shelden (Alexandria) reports an individual, fishing in a portable shelter, burned his extra line on the propane stove in hopes that it would sink down the hole when the officer approached.

One problem, he burned the line above the bobber. The officer retrieved the line, bobber, jig and fathead minnow and a citation was issued for fishing with an extra line.

CO Dale Ebel (Duluth) reports that while driving down a county road, he noticed a set of car headlights off in a field. Ebel observed a person, dressed in blaze orange, bending over in the field and then occasionally shaking his hands in the air.

Ebel investigated, finding a young man leaning over a six-point buck.

When asked about shaking his hands in the air, the hunter reported it was his first buck by muzzleloader and he couldn’t contain his excitement.

CO Chad Sherack (Pequot Lakes) issued citations for speed and failure to stop at road crossings to several early season snowmobilers. Sherack clocked one snowmobile operator going through road crossings at 70 mph without stopping. The conservation officer asked the individual about the violation and the man replied, “I didn’t stop because I didn’t see any headlights coming.”

CO Adam Block (Prior Lake) reports two goose hunters were checked leaving the field with 10 geese. When they were informed the limit was two each, they said they took the person’s word selling licenses that the late goose season limit was five each. The hunters had a waterfowl supplement in the truck, but failed to read it. The geese were seized and enforcement action was taken.

CO Joe Stattelman (Mankato) reports ice conditions in the area are poor but some people are venturing onto the ice anyway. One ATV operator drove 15 yards out onto the ice and then turned around and returned to shore. He said he heard the ice cracking, but wasn’t too worried since his ATV is small and he doesn’t weigh much.

CO Lisa Kruse (White Bear Lake) caught two individuals bow hunting for deer over shelled corn that was serving as bait. They had taken camouflage material and nailed it to the trees right above the corn so that the corn couldn’t be seen from the air. After reading recent news accounts of illegal baiting activity, they were afraid a DNR plane would spot the corn.

CO Tim Jenniges (Windom) spent time checking muzzleloader deer hunters. One hunter dressed in layers to combat the minus eight-degree morning temperature had zipped several different clothing items together. Unfortunately, the zipper teeth didn’t match, creating a tangled mess. The hunter said he hoped the deer would be more cooperative than his zippers!

CO Joe Stattelman (Mankato) assisted the local sheriff’s department and a representative from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health with an elk farm inspection. The farm had been noncompliant since the Board of Animal Health took over supervision of the farms several years ago. The elk owner decided to shoot all his elk in the presence of the officers rather than comply with the regulations.

CO Tom Hemker (Winona) reports four duck hunters were crossing the Mississippi River from Minnesota to hunt ducks in Wisconsin when they ran into an ice jam behind an island along the main channel.

Before they could back out of the area, more ice came down the river.

Within minutes they were locked into the ice jam with open water over 50 yards away. An airboat was needed to get the hunters back to safety. All of the equipment was retrieved from their boat, but they were unable to get the boat out of the ice.

CO Scott Fritz (La Crescent) had just finished his shift for the day and was talking shop with the local police chief when they heard a single shot on the road near Fritz’s residence. Fritz went to the location and found a man standing over a deer. The man’s deer hunting privileges are currently revoked. He was charged with multiple offenses, including shooting from the roadway, taking big game during closed season - the list just kept going.

DNR Enforcement Chief Pilot Michael Trenholm (Brainerd) flew a helicopter telemetry mission for Camp Ripley Environmental Services.

The purpose was to pinpoint the dens of hibernating black bears. The helicopter allows precise locations to be determined of radio collared bear dens. This allows researchers to later go into the den and retrieve GPS collars that have gathered data all year and to change collars while the bear is sleeping. Then they are sure the collars have fresh batteries and will continue to emit signals for further study and tracking.

Outdoor notes

• Although ice conditions are poor for this time of year, that doesn’t mean the fish aren’t biting.

Actually because of less activity on the lakes – like vehicle traffic, the fishing has even be better than a normal year.

Lakes like Parley, Ramsey, Eagle, and Henry have all been producing pan fish at a pretty good clip.

Eagle has slowed a bit now, but for a good chunk of the winter the pan fish on Eagle were biting like crazy.

I’ve also noticed a few more anglers trying to nab a walleye or two on Silver Lake near the City of Silver Lake.

• The days are officially getting longer. On Jan. 1, the sun rose at 7:52 a.m. and set at 4:42 p.m. Today, the sun rose at 7:48 a.m. and will set at 4:59 p.m.

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