Keeping first-ice fishing safe

It’s that time. Seasons are changing from cool to cooler. Many people find the onset of winter as a bad thing. Fishermen, however, do not. Ice fishing is a great sport and is really its own sport–separate of it’s summer counterpart. Because ice fishing is much-anticipated we are very excited and can’t wait to get on the lake. First ice is, after all, the best walleye fishing of the season. Be careful. Assess the ice, and enter it for the first time with great caution. Wear a life vest, bring a length of rope, and some ice grippers, an ice chisel to test ice, and most importantly let some one know where you are. Chip a hole in the lake every 50 feet or so the check for ice quality and thickness. Walk slowly and carefully and look for ice thinner then 4 inches. If you chip a hole in the lake that appears to be less then 4 inches. Walk back to shore on the same path you walked out on and get in your vehicle and drive home. The first 7-8 inches of ice grows about 1 inch a day if the overnight temps are below zero degrees. Once the ice reaches 8 inches it slows it’s growth a little bit (under similar conditions), as 8 inches acts as it’s own insulator. If it’s very cold (minus ten to minus twenty) the ice will grow 1 1/2 inches a day for the first week–but those perfect ice making conditions are rare. Keep in mind too, that not all lakes freeze the same way, so treat each lake like a new event, and excersize caution accordingly. Also, note that lakes change how they freeze from year to year. One year they freeze shut in a single day while other years it may take two to three weeks for a lake to freeze completely. Spring action and snow cover are the enemy and will delay safe-ice and growth by nearly a month in some cases. Laziness seems to be the biggest hurdle in ice checking. Most folks just don’t do it because it takes time and energy. Throwing a rock at the lakes edge isn’t good enough. Get safe. Explore the first-ice cautiously. When you’re out on the lake for the first time and you’re standing on the ice, alone, take note of the solitude of the moment. It’s fabulous. Standing on first-ice is a miracle. Just be careful not to ruin the miracle by being lazy and in a hurry. One final note of caution. Be your own researcher. Don’t rely on other’s ice reports to make it safe. And in the same stroke, don’t let someone else’s careless mistake keep you from the ice–it’s a great sport but you need excersize caution on first-ice.
My personal first-ice exploration hikes on Ottertail Lake are usually about 5-10 miles long. I try to map out the soft spots on the lake as soon as I can so I know where the ice-making may be sluggish as the ice thickens and/or if it snows, covering the soft-spots and then it’s difficult to tell where it’s safe as we begin driving ATV’s etc. I spend about 3-7 days checking Ottertail lake ice and mapping and walking non-stop. It’s imperative for me to know what’s out there and at what pace the ice is growing. I commit huge amounts of time and energy to safety–lots of sweat. But it’s worth it because it makes the first couple weeks of ice fishing fun and productive. Have a good time, be careful, and catch some fish. Ross Hagemeister,


It’s a wrap

Summer fishing was strong this season. I spent all but 3 days on the lake in a 5 1/2 month period. It was intense. I had really hoped to get more blogs out this summer but I was shot by days end. I had my last guide outing November 11, and it was cold. The fish had slipped into their late-season early-ice pattern. The deeper walleye were still mid-day feeding but the nicer weed-line fish were wanting to wait till low light to get going. The last few weeks of October were very strong–great sized walleye and steady action, but the weather was tough. My guests endured amazingly frigid conditions–lots of wind, sleet, snow, and more wind. Everybody met me at the landing and we returned to the landing with good catches. Now, winter is on it’s way and along with it comes the ice fishing season.   I’m preparing my fish houses right now and am anxious to get back on the lake and start drilling holes and getting my houses on good fishing.  I’ll be very active with my blog again in the next several weeks and will be giving ice reports and fishing forecasts–so stay tuned.  In the same stroke I’m going to continue to show images from my Humminbirds.



Here’s one of those mysterious images.  I took it for a couple different reasons.  Notice the vertical “chatter.”  Many folks think it’s something, but it’s not.  in the middle of my season this year, my trolling motor started to project noise.  It was probably a bad ground and quite frankly, I wasn’t very concerned about it.  None the less, “noise” is very common on graphs and can easily be misinterpreted and qualified as valuable images.  I often have people on board my boat that see noise and tell me the graph is full of fish/walleye.  Nope. If you’re seeing lots and lots of “stuff’ on your graph, be careful to assume it has value.  In the middle of the screen, however, is “something.”  It still poses to be an ambiguous seen.  Weeds grow and move in this sort of manor and fish are “supposed” to show up as pretty arcs–so what is it?  We can do some math and deduction with this problem.  If you look at the depth in the upper left corner of the screen, you’ll notice it’s 28 ft deep.  In mid-Minnesota, that’s deeper then most weeds grow in most of our lakes–especially weeds that are that shape (most deep weeds on lakes in our area are clumpy and not single stranded), therefore, we can assume they might be fish.  These marks are Ottertail Lake walleye, in 28 ft of water.  The other best way to figure out what this type of an echo is, is to catch one.  Fish Good. Ross Hagemeister, meisterguideservice