Zach Thomsen: Ice Fishing Awareness

Zach Thomsen
South Dakota GFP

With December upon the prairie pothole region, the winter cold has set in, and a couple fall seasons have now concluded. Hunters have had a decent weather hunting season this year, which showed good harvest rates throughout the fall with pheasants, deer, and waterfowl. 

As hunters are now relaxing and telling stories for the ages, the cold winter weather has once again produced the hard water that most anglers have been waiting for since November. It should bring decent ice conditions with the continuing weather pattern to start the season off as long as we can keep the snow from piling up current ice conditions.

Ice fishing is an enjoyable sport, but one must be always careful and mindful of the ice. While you are out on the ice this year always pay attention to ice thickness, clarity of ice and spots that may have a lot of snow on them.  Areas of water current, ground fed springs and waterfowl open areas late in the seasons are the thinnest spots for ice to build and have proven the most dangerous spots.  Make sure to test all ice before heading out on any lake this year. It is also suggested to go out and pay attention to the ice during the early ice season. This is a great way when scouting out your next honey hole to document where you are seeing open water areas that will be the last to freeze over or ice heaves already starting to form. If you have any questions call your local area bait shops as they always have the best knowledge on ice conditions and where the fish are biting.  

This year most waters froze over in November. But this leads to many areas that opened back up in December proving the idea of uneven ice thickness across certain bodies of water. 

The durability of the ice thickness depends on if it is good clear ice. Remember snow can pile up on ice and create a thermal melting the ice underneath creating the deterioration durability of ice. Warm days of ice melting and refreezing can also make for dangerous spots on the lakes. Always be aware on the ice this year even if you hear a lake is 24 inches deep. Here are some quick guidelines for anglers when headed out this ice season. Always remember these ice thickness guidelines. They are for perfect durable, formed ice.        

Ice Thickness Guidelines for Anglers

Less than 4 inches: Stay off!

4-6 inches: Ice fishing via foot travel in single-file lines should be safe

6-12 inches: Snowmobiles and ATVs can travel safely on good ice at least 6 inches thick.

12-16 inches: Small cars and pickups can venture onto the ice once it is a foot or more. However, anglers are generally encouraged to avoid driving on ice that is less than 16 inches.

More than 16 inches: Generally, a medium-sized car or mid-sized pickup can travel safely on good, clear, solid ice.

Zach Thomsen is a conservation officer with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.