It’s December, and most hard-water anglers are thinking the same thing: “when is it going to get cold enough to freeze the ponds?” Each year as a sheer, fragile coating begins to inhibit fog from rising off the water’s surface, anglers become jittery. Fingers start itching to be on the auger throttle, ice traps are pulled from summer storage and re-lined, or at least checked, and where in the world are those wool socks, thick gloves, and hat all hiding? Every evening that the mercury dips well below 32 degrees elicits a happy “making ice” dance. With each rain, hard-water anglers become edgier, more anxious with anticipation for frozen hands and the lunker under the ice that will make it all worth it.
Pause. Take a breath. Soon enough there will be ice, and fish to be had through it. But, take a little break from tracking down everything that you will soon be packing into the jet sled and re-assess. Think of your family, your friends, and all that you hold dear. It’s still early and the ice isn’t ready. Is a chance at catching that lunker today worth the risk? Ice is fun but it’s also dangerous, especially at the beginning of the season – now, when ice is just beginning to form and later when it is thinning just before ice-out. On some ponds, certain areas are never really safe. The depth of clear ice can be difficult to judge just by looking at it. If you do venture out on the ice, stop and use a chisel, auger, or ice pick every few feet to check ice thickness. Be mindful of channels or streams that may run through ponds. Even lakes and ponds have water moving under the ice, and running water means it is much more difficult for ice to form.
It may be that two inches of solid, clear lake ice may be enough to hold a single person walking gingerly. But, keep in mind the weight that you are bearing. That new ice is likely not enough to support a group of people, even a small group, plus their fishing equipment, or even a single person stomping around. You need at least an extra inch of clear, blue lake ice for that. Regardless of thickness, is it good, solid ice? Ice mixed with slush or snow is only half as strong as clear ice. And, be extremely cautious with vehicles. You need a minimum of eight inches of clear, blue, solid lake ice to hold just a small passenger car. The thinner the ice, the less margin of error there is for those inevitable thin spots at inlets, outlets, spring holes, under-ice currents, rocks, shallows, etc.
Don’t lose hope, yet. The season is just beginning! Soon the temperatures will plummet, ice will be made, fish will be caught, and fingers will be thoroughly frozen (hope you found those gloves). Until then, change the spark plug in your auger, add fresh gas, and start it up to make sure it runs well. Bide your time working the stiffness out of the traps and checking and/or replacing your line so that when that monster does hit under that thick, safe ice, it won’t be the one that got away!
For more information about ice load and wind chill, check out the link on the side of this page.