Preparing to hit the ice
Warmer than usual temperatures have kept ice fishermen and women off area lakes, ponds and fishing holes, but next week's projected temperatures may jump start the freezing process, bringing ice fishing season a bit closer.
"Last year at this time people were already out there fishing," said Jeff Hendrickson, North Dakota Game and Fish Southwest District fisheries supervisor. "Last year we froze up early."
Hendrickson said Dickinson's Patterson Lake has been freezing some nights but opening up during the day. Though ice fishing is not recommended on Patterson Lake.
"They can ... I don't think they'll catch anything," he said. "I think we killed all of them." In order to eradicate "junk" fish and replenish game fish, NDGF officials conducted a massive fish kill this fall.
Nancy Boldt, NDGF administrative and water safety coordinator in Bismarck, said most North Dakota fishing spots, with the exception of some northern lakes, have "marginal" amounts of ice.
"We don't ever say when ice is safe because it never is," Hendrickson said.
But, that may not stop those in hot pursuit of the next big catch.
"It won't be long and we'll have ice fishermen trying it out," Boldt said. "It takes about a good week of really, really low temperatures to get a good covering."
High winds can affect ice formations, strength and color.
"The good thing is this year we're going to have nice clear ice because we don't have any snow in it," Boldt said. "As long as we don't have a lot of wind movement when it's freezing, you get nice clear, blue ice."
Ripples in the ice, caused by winds, can cause air pockets and in some spots, weakness.
"Most of these people are born and raised in North Dakota and if they do fall through the ice early on it's usually pretty close to shore," Boldt said.
Most reports of people falling through the ice while fishing are between Christmas vacation and January, Boldt said.
"In the spring, people are attempting to drive where there might be some water movement under the ice and every place else may have several inches to a foot of ice," Boldt said. "All of a sudden they run across a place where it had water movement under it and it's not as thick."
Water movement under the ice, such as springs, can cause ice to be weaker in some spots, she said.
"It may look smooth on top ... what the fish are seeing on the bottom side, it isn't consistent," Boldt said.
Several years have passed since a fatality has occurred from falling through ice into frigid waters, Boldt said.
"I always recommend they take an ice chisel with them and just keep pounding on the ice as they walk, drill some holes," Boldt said. "If you keep drilling ahead of you, walk a little ways and drill again."
Boldt said the NDGF recommends talking to fellow fishermen at local bait shops as many will share their knowledge of present ice conditions.
Gib Gunwall of Dickinson has been ice fishing for about 35 years and said most years he is ice fishing on or by Thanksgiving.
He usually fishes at Indian Creek, southwest of Regent, since it is a smaller body of water, it freezes up much quicker.
Gunwall believes fish harvested during the winter months taste different than those harvested in warmer temperatures.
"Definitely on smaller lakes," Gunwall said. "Lake Sakakawea there's not a big difference, but on your smaller lakes the water temperature gets pretty warm and the fish have a tendency to get a little bit mushy."
Gunwall said harvested fish tend to be firmer in winter months due to colder water temperatures.
Gunwall frequents Lake Sakakawea once there is enough ice, but that is generally later in the season.
"We do a lot of fishing north of Beach Odland Dam, Indian Creek, just smaller ponds," Gunwall said. "There are all kinds of small ponds in the Bowman area."
Gunwall said he only uses an ice fishing hut when it is extremely cold.
"I like to move a lot," Gunwall said. "I don't like to stay in one place too long if I'm not catching fish, I like to pick up and move to a new spot."