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Ice Not Safe: Safety tips offered to anglers on ice

Anglers have been spotted out on the ice of lakes in the Brainerd lakes area, but with unseasonably warm weather ice conditions have deteriorated and there still is a lot of open water.

For that reason, area law enforcement officials are urging those venturing out on the ice to be safe.

Crow Wing and Cass county authorities have not been needed for any major ice rescues in the past month with anglers falling through the ice, only a few minor incidents of people partially falling in and getting themselves out.

Hard-core anglers will go out on the lakes when they feel the ice is ready and there is no stopping them. However, anglers should be aware of the ice conditions and what they can do to protect themselves if they break through the ice.

One thing they can do is read the weekly Outdoor News fishing reports. The weekly Dec. 1 fishing report, published Thursday on the Outdoor News website for the Brainerd and Nisswa area stated, "The big lakes remained ice-free early this week, but anglers were reporting about 5 inches of ice on some small lakes and bays early this week. You really need to use caution, and only foot travel is advised on the few areas being fished, especially after this week's warm weather."

Cass Lake area was no different. "The small lakes and bays continue to have walkable ice, while the bigger bodies of water have pockets of open water and thin ice," the Outdoor News fishing report stated.

Leech Lake was reported to be wide open, with the exception of some shoreline ice.

Anglers may go to to read the full reports.

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said the sheriff's office recommends people to stay off the lakes, especially if the warm weather continues.

"If you're going to go out on the lakes we encourage using strong caution," Burch said. "People have been out on a lot of the smaller and larger lakes and we ask people to pay close attention to the weather conditions. The nice warm weather has wiped out a lot of the ice. We have heard rumors of ATVs on the lakes and one that went through the ice, but we were not called to respond."

Capt. Scott Goddard of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office said deputies responded to three minor calls relating to lake/ice conditions, when they began seeing some of the bays and smaller lakes freezing over around Nov. 10.

On Nov. 21, there was a call of a boat that floated off a boat lift or dock on Upper South Long Lake. On Nov. 26, a person fell through the ice on shallow water on Sibley Lake in Pequot Lakes, but he was able to get himself out and was OK. On Nov. 29, a portable fish house was stuck on the ice about 200 yards from shore on Ruth Lake in Emily. No was was around and contact was made with the owner, who was OK.

"Since the end of deer hunting, the weather has been so sporadic that we are continuing to tell people that the ice is not safe," Goddard said. "With such a fluctuation of temperatures we advise no foot traffic, no vehicles, no ATVs, etc.

"It's never safe. Last fall, a person who fell threw the ice, walked out on the same path he came in on and when he left a couple hours the ice had deteriorated during that time. ... One thing people need to take a hard look at are all the resources we are are putting out there to respond to the emergencies on the lake, this is all over a silly fish."

So far in 2017, three boaters have died on cold water, and 12 total boating fatalities have been reported, the DNR stated in a news release. Most recently, two anglers lost their lives after their ATV plunged through the ice on Upper Red Lake. Several emergency responders assisted in the search, when the pair was reported missing Nov. 25. Their bodies were found Nov. 27.

Authorities also have been searching for two people who went missing Nov. 6 on Lower Red Lake when their boat capsized, the Bemidji Pioneer reported. They still have not been found.

"A fall into extremely cold water can incapacitate you within seconds," Lisa Dugan, DNR recreation safety outreach coordinator stated. "Air temperatures have been relatively mild, but don't let that deceive you. Water temperatures are dangerously cold across the entire state, which means it's more important than ever to wear that life jacket."

State statistics show that one-third of boating fatalities typically occurred during the "cold water season," and that in the vast majority of cases the cause of death is drowning due to not wearing a life jacket.

DNR conservation officer Lt. Adam Block said once ice formation picks up again, it will be important to stay vigilant about safety on the ice, since conditions can be unpredictable and vary greatly even on the same body of water.

"In addition to checking conditions locally and being prepared with an ice safety kit, anyone recreating on hard water should be wearing a life jacket," Block stated. "A life jacket is the one piece of equipment that exponentially increases your odds of not drowning from cold water shock, hypothermia or exhaustion should you fall through the ice."

Temperatures in the Brainerd area continue to be in the 40s this week. There is a chance of rain—not snow—Sunday afternoon and the National Weather Service in Duluth reports a slight chance of snow during the overnight Sunday. Temperatures are expected to be closer to normal with a high of 26 Tuesday and 21 Wednesday.

Ice facts

• You can't judge ice conditions by appearance or thickness—other factors including water depth, size of waterbody, currents, snow cover, and local weather all combine to determine its strength.

• Ice seldom freezes uniformly—it may be 9 inches thick in one location and only an inch or 2 just a few feet away.

• Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous — ice along streams, springs, and channels between lakes, bridges or aeration systems is usually weaker due to faster current.

(Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

Safety tips regarding ice

• New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially thawed ice may not.

• Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or 2 just a few feet away.

• Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice on outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.

• The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.

• Booming and cracking ice isn't necessarily dangerous. It only means the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.

• Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.

(Source: The Cass County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota DNR)

While traveling on ice the following guidelines can help you survive a potential threatening situation

• Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop.

• Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.

• Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.

• If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry—keep windows down and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.

• Stay away from alcoholic beverages. Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder rather than warming you up.

• Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile or utility vehicle's headlight.

• At even 30 mph, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.

• Wear a life vest under your winter gear.

• Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers. It's amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken, but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 pounds of water. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice. Caution: Do not wear a flotation device when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle.

(Source: The Cass County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota DNR)