Safety on First Ice a Priority

Good News! There’s adventure in the north, but Safety is the most important on First Ice.  There is a skim of ice on the bays shooting off Rainy River and Lake of the Woods. It’s an amazing thing! That’s why it’s so important to practice Safety on First Ice.  The current slows down this time of the year and overnight, as temperatures drop, ice forms on the bays. We are making ice daily!!!  Anglers are excited for every season they can come to this World Class Fishery!!safety on first ice

Now let’s talk about Safety on First Ice.  Yes, the emphasis is on SAFETY!!  Only Mother Nature has the final say about the weather and we must pay close attention to how she’s moving. With 50+ resorts on Lake of the Woods, there is no end of opportunity to enjoy the season of winter ice. Over 5,000 fish houses can be found mid-winter on Lake of the Woods as ice depths can reach 3.5 feet.  However, it takes time for ice to form and resort owners/ guides are experts at watching the lake and notifying the public about ice safety.  Keep watching for aerial photos of Lake of the Woods and where and when ice is formed.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has issued guidelines for safety on first ice. Temperature, snow cover, currents, springs and rough fish all affect the relative safety of ice. Ice is seldom the same thickness over a single body of water; it can be two feet thick in one place and one inch thick a few yards away. Our guides walk out onto the ice as soon as possible and start measuring the depth of the ice using drills and tape measures. We want to remind everyone that SAFETY is the most important factor for anglers and guides alike. Very soon after ice starts to form, ice roads start to be prepared and the season is on.

                                              For new, clear ice only

ice thickness banner

Checking ice, marking trail, Bugsy's on Bostic

Checking for Safety

4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
5″ – 7″ – Snowmobile or ATV
8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
12″ – 15″ – Medium truck

  1.  Ice Safety.  Work through a resort.  It sure is nice to be able to head out ice fishing via an ice road, snowmobile or resort ice transportation.  In many cases, people don’t realize all of the behind the scenes work that takes place to make sure visitors are safe.  Ice workers are constantly monitoring the ice thickness and ice conditions.  Ice roads are driven each morning.  If there are problem areas that can occur in the ice, the resort either adds bridges or re-routes for safety.   Resort ice workers are constantly monitoring, plowing and repairing ice.  Staying on the trail is your best bet.  If you decide to venture out on your own, be sure to know the ice conditions first.
  2. Markings. When following a marked trail on the ice, double flags mean caution ahead, such as a big ice chunk, crack to avoid, etc. On snowmobile trails you might actually see a caution sign. Trails in good condition are marked with single stakes or flags. If you are ever in doubt, feel free to ask.
  3. Who to contact in the event of an emergency.  If you ever experience a situation in which you or someone else is in need of help, your first call should be 911.  This call is routed to professionals who have an entire list of agencies and resorts for that matter who may be able to help.  Resorts often times are right in the middle of assisting with emergencies, medial or otherwise.  With this being said, your first call should be 911.
  4. Be Prepared:  cell phone. When you venture out on the ice, it is a good idea to have your cell phone charged up.  Some people will actually carry
    safety before venturing out

    First Ice is Beautiful but practice Safety

    the small portable battery packs that can plug into most cell phones for a good charge.  Remember if you are out of cell range, a text can sometimes get through.

  5. Be Prepared:  Clothing.  A good rule of thumb is to be over prepared.  If you are venturing out on a snowmobile, in your car or even with a resort, having warm clothing, a hat and gloves can be crucial in the event of a breakdown, snow storm or other situation that can occur.  The boy scout motto, “Always be prepared”.
  6. Be Prepared:  Vehicle.  Whether you are traveling up to Lake of the Woods or headed out on the lake, it is a good idea to have your gas tank above a half a tank.  This will help with extreme freezing temps and if you would happen to run off of the road while driving. Other good items to have are a tow strap, jumper cables, and a shovel.
  7. Be Prepared:  Snowmobile.  In general, it is a good idea to keep you sled tuned up and in good working condition.  Have plenty of fuel, an extra belt (know how to change it), have safety materials in the storage compartment.  Some people will carry a rope along for a rescue situation or even a tow.  Some anglers who use sleds invest in a Nebulus.  In the event you sled goes through the ice, this device is attached to your machine and has a pull cord which inflates a raft.  This raft can save you and keep your machine from going to the bottom of the lake or river.
  8. Be Prepared:  GPS.  A GPS whether in your car or a handheld version can be handy.  I like to turn it on when leaving shore so I create a plot line from shore to where I am headed on the ice.  In the event of a whiteout, you will be able to follow your plot line back which will help to stay on the ice road or trail you came out of and obviously get you safely home.  If conditions are extreme and you are in a fish house with ample heat, it is a good idea to stay put until the weather clears.  Contact a resort or someone to communicate your whereabouts and game plan.  In some cases, resorts may be able to assist.
  9. Don’t take chances.  There is always someone who is the first one to walk out, take out an ATV or drive a vehicle.  Let the resorts who are trained, who are on the ice daily and have years of experience guide you in what can be used and what is too heavy for the ice conditions.

A big thank you to all of the resorts, ice workers, various agencies around Lake of the Woods including the police departments, fire fighters, local sheriff departments, the MN Highway Patrol, Coast Guard, Border Patrol, U. S. Customs, Canada Border Services Agency, MN DNR, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Valley Med Flight and anyone else who has ever assisted or is willing to assist in an emergency situation.

This is a quick peek on near white out conditions.  This quick video will give you an idea of how it can whip up on the ice of Lake of the Woods.

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