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Ice is never safe says NDGF

Ice fishing is underway across much of the state with fishermen braving the conditions to bring home their catches. With early snowfall and cold temperatures early in the winter season, the North Dakota Game and Fish advises fishermen to remember...

Tire tracks are visible on Patterson Lake outside of Dickinson on Monday. (Ellie Potter / The Dickinson Press)
Tire tracks are visible on Patterson Lake outside of Dickinson on Monday. (Ellie Potter / The Dickinson Press)

Ice fishing is underway across much of the state with fishermen braving the conditions to bring home their catches.

With early snowfall and cold temperatures early in the winter season, the North Dakota Game and Fish advises fishermen to remember to stay cautious when venturing out on the ice.

"It's really important especially this year with that early snow to make sure we have quality ice underneath you," said Brian Schaffer, NDGF administrative and water safety coordinator.

Schaffer said that when snow mixes with the ice on tops of lakes, ponds and rivers it creates cloudy or white snow which is not as strong as clear ice.

Clear blue ice is the best type of ice to venture out because of its strength and newness.

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The NDGF stands behind the belief that no ice is ever safe, said Jeff Henrickson, western fisheries district supervisor, but they issue a rule of thumb for ice.

"We have guidelines and that's just what they are, guidelines," he said. "People need to use their own judgement and measure the ice."

The NDGF gives these guidelines on ice:

• 4 inches of good ice for walking individual

• 6 inches of good ice for snowmobile or ATV

• 8 to 12 inches of good ice for a car or small pickup

• 12 to 15 inches of good ice for a medium pickup or truck

The snowfall on the lakes, ponds and rivers is also dangerous because of what the snow covers.

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The NDGF website warns that snow can hide cracked, weak and open water.

Schaffer said it's also important to note that just because one measurement of ice might indicate that it's safe to be on, another area may not have the same thickness.

"There's several factors that can contribute to ice being thin in places, whether it's a current, a natural spring, where you are walking on four or five inches of ice and then two inches of ice because it froze up last, which can be from spring current or from large geese keeping a lake open late into the fall," he said.

Schaffer said he recommends that people travel together when venturing out ice fishing in case someone falls through the ice.

The NDGF recommends that if a person falls in they try not to panic and turn toward the direction that they came to try to pull themselves back up on the ice the last place that they stepped. They should then place their hands and arms on the unbroken surface of the ice and work their way up by kicking their feet. They should then use their ice picks to assist in pulling themselves up onto the ice, and once on the ice, rolling away from the weak or broken ice.

If a companion falls in the NDGF suggests that the rescuer does not run toward the victim but instead reach the victim with a long pole, board, rope, blanked or cables. The rescuer can also throw the victim a life jacket, empty water jug or other buoyant object. If there are enough people a human chain can be built with rescuers laying on the ice with each person grasping the feet of the person in front of them until reaching the victim.

Schaffer said people should be sure to check the ice depths themselves and never trust word-of-mouth.

While ice fishing is incredibly popular in North Dakota all winter long, he also asks that people are patient and don't push the limits during early or later ice season.

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