I know you get tired of my blogging about it, but as I look out the window today I feel compelled to say something about this again–ice safety. I got a phone call from a guy this week; all he wanted to know was the best waters in his area to go ice-fishing. The thought that the ice might not be safe had never even crossed his mind–we have had snow and cold again, and he was going ice-fishing. I could tell from the conversation that this person did not have a lot of experience on the ice and that is exactly what scares me. I am not a bit worried about my fellow, scruffy, old, ice anglers, the folks that have been around for more than a few ice-fishing seasons and know how to make sure it is safe before hitting the ice again. The ones I worry about are the ones I hear from all the time who assume that just because the temperature has been below 32 degrees F we can go ice fishing (or ice skating, ice hockey, or just playing around on the ice). So, as I reminded the phone caller, you better make sure the ice is safe, every time you plan to go on it.
I hate to say too much about ice safety, because I do not want to scare folks away from it. When we have enough ice, it is very safe and lots of folks enjoy fishing through holes in the ice. I also realize that in the “nanny society” in which we live, there are those who would just plain tell you to never go on the ice, anytime. That is BALONEY. But, you have to make sure it is safe!
Never ask me what “normal” Nebraska weather is, or what a “normal” Nebraska winter is like. “Normal” is nothing more than the average of the extremes we experience in this state. Last night my son asked me if I could remember a winter like this when we had ice in November, and then it all thawed, we froze up again in late December, and then back to liquid water in much of the state by late January, and now it looks like we are making ice again. Yes, I can remember a winter or two with the safe ice/open water status flipping a couple, three times, but I never remember a winter when we had ice so early and not held it all winter long. A mid-winter thaw can make for some great ice fishing, but the thaws we have had this winter have been too warm for too long and have created very tricky ice conditions.
As of right now, there are places in Nebraska, mostly northern and western parts of the state, where not all of the ice melted last week. On those waters, the recent cold should “firm up” the ice and re-freeze edges that might have thawed. But, in other parts of the state we literally were back to liquid water just a few days ago. We may be making ice again, but that ice does not necessarily form as quickly or as thickly as one might think. Wind can keep ice from forming, and during the day temperatures may warm enough that ice is not forming or growing. In addition, the recent snow we have received in much of the state is going to make things very uncertain. Snow on top of a cap of ice will insulate it and keep it from thickening. The other thing about that snow is that it covers everything, it makes it harder to see how thick the ice might or might not be. Even on waters where we still had ice, there might have been spots that were unsafe, and it may be even more difficult to see or detect those spots now if they are covered with fresh snow.
The outlook for the coming days, weeks, is for more warm weather in Nebraska. If we get some safe ice in the next couple of days, it likely is not going to last very long unless we see a dramatic change in our weather pattern. Assuming the long-term forecasts are accurate, that again suggests that extreme caution is warranted wherever you might venture onto the ice.
In my experience, the bite after a re-freeze is tough. Remember a cap of ice stabilizes water conditions under the ice, but with the recent thaw and open water we have seen in many places, there has been mixing and additional cooling of the water. That may mean it will take some time for conditions to stabilize and for the fish to re-adjust to changes in their environment. If you can safely get on the ice again, go for it, hopefully you will find some cooperative fish, but do not be surprised if you have to work for them.
I anticipate that I will be able to venture out and check on some ice conditions in the coming days. I very much am hoping that I have not pulled my last fish through a Nebraska ice hole for the winter. I will not tell you the ice is safe right now, you have to make that call for yourself every time you are on it. If you want, take some time and review some of my previous posts on ice safety (e.g. Safety First). Be careful out there!