It is that time of year when ice anglers begin appearing on Montana’s waters for the ice fishing season.
“There is some fishable ice out there right now, and with continued stable, cold weather, conditions are likely to improve,” said Dave Hagengruber, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks angler education coordinator. “First ice is often some of the best fishing of the year too, but also quite variable from location to location and day to day.”
Hagengruber reminded anglers that the variability of ice conditions can not be over estimated.
“The safest ice anglers are those who are particular about their ice and who pay as much attention to the condition of the ice as they do the fishing conditions,” Hagengruber said.
Dressing to help prevent frostbite and hypothermia is also a basic rule, as is knowledge of ice safety and ice rescue.
Hagengruber said anglers should be familiar with the water body they plan to fish, or go with someone who knows that water and how ice tends to form and change there. For those without an ice-fishing buddy, he recommends checking out one of the ice fishing blogs, or a website likewww.iceshanty.com, with ice fishing updates, chat and a map of where ice is found in the U.S. and Canada.
Common ice-safety reminders to keep in mind include:
• Check in with a local sport shop or bait shop before you set out for trip. They should have up-to-date information to share.
• Check out ice conditions before you go. Ask other anglers or local sources and take into account changes in the weather during the past 24 hours.
• If you have even the slightest doubt about the safety of the ice—stay off it! No fish is ever worth a fall into frigid water.
• It’s OK to wear a life jacket (PFD) or carry a throwable floatation device—credible ice-anglers do it all the time.
• Wear a warm hat that covers your ears. In cold weather, 75 to 80 percent of heat loss from the body occurs from an uncovered head.
• Wear mittens – they are warmer than gloves and reduce the chance of finger frostbite.
• Before you head from home, tell someone where you plan to fish and when you plan to return.
• Carry a pair of long spikes on a heavy string around your neck. That way, if you break through the ice, you can use the spikes to grip the ice and pull yourself out of the water.
When on the ice, remember:
• Blue ice is usually hard. Watch out for opaque, gray, dark or porous spots in the ice that could be weak, soft areas. Ice also tends to thin more quickly at the shorelines.
• Watch for pressure ridges. These are areas of open water or thin ice where the ice has cracked and heaved due to expansion from freezing.
• Test the ice ahead of you with an ice spud bar or an auger.
• Don’t leave children unsupervised on the ice.
• Lakes and ponds do not freeze at the same thickness all over.
• Moving water—rivers, streams and springs—weaken ice by wearing it away from underneath. Avoid ice on rivers and streams, or where a river or stream enters a lake, pond or reservoir.
• The least safe ice usually occurs early and late in the season, when the weather is warmer.