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This is the time of the year that has most fishermen in limbo. As ice begins to form on our area lakes and streams, the open water fishing opportunities start to dwindle and all we can do is wait for ice-over. This can also be a dangerous part of the year as folks tend to venture out on thin ice hoping to reap the benefits of the “early ice” bite. It has been said many times that the hard water fishing is at its best soon after the ice-over.

The Department of Natural Resources said the thin layers of ice that are forming on Minnesota waters right now are not safe. This reminder comes after a DNR conservation officer helped rescue a man Nov. 15 who was fishing and fell through the ice on Little Rock Lake in Benton County. 

“The bottom line is it’s crucial that people do not let their guard down,” said Kara Owens, DNR boat and water safety specialist, “because ice is never 100 percent safe. A few days of cold temperatures don’t create ice strong enough to hold a person.”

According to Owens, six people died last winter after falling through the ice.

The DNR recommends anyone heading out on the ice should: carry a set of ice picks, check with a local bait shop or resort — ask about ice conditions — and measure the ice.

DNR clear ice thickness recommendations are:

• 4 inches for walking.

• 5 inches for a snowmobile or ATV.

• 8-12 inches for a car.

 •12-15 inches for a medium-sized truck.

Statistics say that most drowning caused by thin ice are at this time of the year and children are the ones who are most prone to testing the first ice.

Looking back to my childhood days, I can recall testing the first ice on more than one occasion. As a kid I spent most of my waking moments either at the “crick” starting with ice-out in the spring or tromping through the slough on a wintery Saturday in search of some kind of adventure. I can remember testing the ice on mud puddles just to get some sort of satisfaction out of breaking through. It is actually kind of strange what simple things can fascinate a young mind.

As the ice thickened, some of the kids in the neighborhood would decide to venture out into the slough pretending to be explorers like Lewis & Clark or frontiersmen like our folk heroes Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett. Sometimes I would picture myself as Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, who was a TV hero of mine that was always battling Indians or tracking down those dastardly French Canadian bad guys.

Getting back to the ice thing, while venturing out on the “big ice” for the first time we would usually be extra careful until we felt safe; which would sometimes lead to filling the old 5-buckle overshoe with ice cold water. The overshoe full of water was usually accompanied by a water soaked pant leg which would freeze solid in just a short time in the cold of winter. It’s funny how kids can be oblivious to the freezing temperatures for a time until the pant leg starts to make a “clacking” sound and the teeth begin chattering. This is when you knew it was time to head home and face the “I told you so” that mom would have ready for you after warning you to be careful and stay off the ice.

Most of the time if you did fall through the ice, it was because you had gotten too close to the cattails which were like magnets to a kid looking for the perfect one. For some strange reason we would almost make a game out of finding the best cattail. You didn’t want one that had already started to open up but one that was perfectly brown with the point still intact. It wasn’t as if we would actually do anything with them. I guess it was just a game we’d made up to pass the time on a wintery afternoon adventure.

Yes, those times spent playing on that thin ice could have been dangerous, but we didn’t see it that way because we didn’t think the “crick” was all that deep and, of course, we never really planned on breaking through. I can still remember marveling at the times when you would stand on that clear, thin ice watching as the water flowed beneath it on its way to Goose Lake; it was just another wonder of nature that fascinated a young kid who loved spending time in the outdoors.

Until next time, stay off the thin ice there will be plenty of winter ahead. It’s always time well spent when you spend it in our great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

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