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Each year when winter first appears and the lakes begin to ice over there are those few who like to be the first ones on the lake. I know the rule of thumb for any avid ice fisherman is the earlier the better, but please don’t throw caution to the wind. The Minnesota DNR urges people to stay off the ice at this early stage.

The guidelines for safe ice as set by the DNR are as follows:

• 2" or less - STAY OFF

• 4" - Ice fishing or other activities on foot

• 5" - Snowmobile or ATV

• 8" - 12" - Car or small pickup

• 12" - 15" - Medium truck

These guidelines are for new, clear solid ice.

Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.

White ice or "snow ice" is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.

Before heading out on ice:

1. Contact a local bait shop or lakeside resort to ask about ice conditions.

2. Check ice thickness once you get there.

Temperature, snow cover, currents, springs and rough fish all affect the relative safety of ice. Ice is seldom the same thickness over a single body of water; it can be two feet thick in one place and one inch thick a few yards away. Check the ice at least every 150 feet.

Check ice thickness using the following: www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice/thickness.

With the winter kill that we experienced last year on Albert Lea and Pickeral Lakes, I don’t anticipate any fishing villages popping up during this year’s hard water fishing season. I can only assume that Fountain Lake will play host to the village people this year and there will be a lot of traffic on the lake. I also believe that Beaver and St. Olaf Lakes will see an increase in traffic this winter.

Although the Minnesota DNR tells us that a winter kill is good for the environment and makes for a healthy lake, I just don’t like the thought of starting over time and time again. I guess that at my age I don’t want to start over too many more times.

Winter kill is one thing and “reclaiming” a lake is another, but to me both occurrences leave a little void that takes away the unknown factor that is part of why I fish. What if there was a 10-lb. walleye swimming the depths of a lake that nobody envisioned being there? This is what makes fishing fun for me; call it the X factor or just the belief that at any given time fish you’ve been searching for your whole life could be the one nibbling on your hook at that very moment.

As a kid I would read fishing and hunting stories in the old Field and Stream magazines that my cousin Tom had given me and dream of living those experiences someday. While growing up I always had a vivid imagination and would frequently find myself fanaticizing about visiting the many places where those stories took place. My imagination coupled with my love for the outdoors made me feel rich in ways that money couldn’t buy.

Looking back on those days one article sticks out in my mind and that was the one that talked about steelhead fishing in upstate New York. The black and white picture that accompanied the story showed fishermen standing elbow to elbow as they lined the banks of the river in the article. Judging by the landscape I thought this could be anywhere in Minnesota and where were the skyscrapers and concrete? Once I realized that there were indeed forest and streams in New York State I also believed that this kind of fishing looked like an accident waiting to happen and I also vowed to myself that no matter how much I like to fish, this kind of fishing would never work for me.

Give me a quiet little lake with little or no boat traffic and I am in my element. I have never been one-dimensional when it comes to fishing. Some folks fish strictly walleye while others may hunt muskies or bass but I, on the other hand, will fish for what’s active at the time or for whatever I can entice to bite on the “secret” bait I have on the end of my line.

This year’s ice fishing season will soon be going strong and I am looking forward to spending a little time on the ice with my oldest grandson Trevor. It’s his turn to find the fish and take grandpa along for the ride.

Until next time, have a happy Thanksgiving and remember to always use caution when venturing out on the ice this season.

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

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