By Chris Schultz Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake Herald, Minn. December 29, 1997
Ice conditions vary
Reports as recent as Christmas Day from ice anglers, the DNR, and bait shops say that ice conditions on lakes in our area and across the state are not consistent and ice thickness can vary greatly.
While anglers have been out in good numbers and many of the smaller lakes and small bays seem to have adequate ice for walking out, driving snowmobiles or ATVs, or to handle a large fishhouse, driving a vehicle out on the ice is still a big question mark.
The uncommon warm temperatures we have experienced so far this winter have created ice conditions that can vary greatly from one lake to the next or from one part of a particular lake to another.
Open water on the large part of Lake Minnetonka, open water and shifting ice on certain area of Lake Mille Lacs, and a truck that partially broke through the ice in shallow water on Howard Lake last week have set the tone for ice fishing and traveling on the ice so far this season.
While ice conditions of this type can seem easy to understand on large bodies of water like Mille Lacs and the main body of Minnetonka, conditions on Howard Lake and other smaller lakes in the area can be a little more confusing.
On Minnetonka, for example, a majority of the winter fishing gets done on the smaller bays where ice is reported to be seven to nine inches thick and conditions are more stable. The smaller bays are not as deep and the wind is far less likely to move ice around and affect ice formation as it does on the large section of the lake.
However, there still can be varied ice conditions on those smaller bays and there are very specific areas to be aware of. A channel, a creek outlet or inlet, any area where water may be running are places where varied or poor ice conditions are common.
With all the bays and channels on Lake Minnetonka, the big part of the lake is not the only area where ice conditions vary greatly this season.
The same holds true on the smaller lakes in our neck of the woods. A creek outlet or inlet or any place where water may be running or there may be current under the ice is a place where the thickness of the ice will vary and probably not be safe.
On lakes like Howard, Ann, Waverly, Waconia, Emma, Mary, Ida, Dog, and more, you need to know these areas and be aware of them before you start scampering around the lake in search of fish. If you don't know the lake, ask another angler or the local bait shop, or just stick to the areas that other anglers are using. If other anglers aren't driving out or are only driving in certain areas follow their lead and don't stray off to places on the lake know one is using.
In all cases, we have to remember that no ice is ever completely safe. With that and the warm temperatures we've had this season in mind be extra careful of varied ice conditions and know what's happening out on the lake before you head out.
Area lakes fishing report
Although ice conditions are varied and unstable right now, that could change in a big hurry.
With no snow on the ice to insulate it from the cold, a three or four day snap of sub-zero temps would shore up ice conditions improving travel and fishing.
Area anglers are reporting good northern pike and fair crappie action on Howard. Big Waverly has been producing perch and a few walleyes. Small walleyes continue to bite on Lake Jennie.
Dog Lake crappies are bitting at prime hours and anglers looking for sunfish have found the best action on Ida, Howard's south end, and Phelp's Bay on Minnetonka. I've also heard talk of fast sunfish action on a small lake in Hennepin County near Mound, called Black Lake.
In reference to last week's column, when I wrote about my tradition of ice fishing on Christmas Eve day:
After a last minute rush of shopping and delivering Christmas gifts, my dad and I made it out fishing for a little while. We didn't catch anything, but we sure had a lot of fun.
We were trolling trolling around the lakes in my dad's car to see if anything was biting.
It was warmer that way and my dad didn't feel like walking out to drill a hole or catch fish. The gravel roads were as close to the ice has he needed to get.
- The Minnesota Sportsmen's Show will be Jan. 13-18 at the St. Paul Civic Center.
- Use glow in the dark jigs for evening crappies.
- The days are getting longer.
- The winter weather this year has been amazing. If you can remember back to last year, it was the coldest Christmas Day on record with temps in the negative 20s.
- Make sure your decoys and hunting gear are stored in a good location that is dry and free of mice and other rodents.
- Sharpen the blades on your ice auger.
- If you have a fish house on the lake, make sure your heating system is in good working order. The house should also be properly ventilated and your propane tank should always be kept outside the house.
- Late season pheasant hunters heading to Iowa have been reporting very tough hunting and very few birds in the bag.
- With the year coming to an end, think back to your 1997 hunting and fishing adventures and ask yourself if you always did the right thing when no one was watching. In the outdoors, there is no umpire or officer watching us; we are completely left alone to judge our own character and make our own ethical decisions.