How’s the ice?

With an increase in the number of people participating in outdoor activities over the past couple of years, Crow Wing County Sheriff, Scott Goddard, talks about ice safety.

Ice Safety guidelines and tips
Ice Safety guidelines and tips Contributed / Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

BRAINERD — Having a plethora of lakes close by provides easy access to ice fishing, but is that ice safe?

With an increase in the number of people participating in outdoor activities over the past couple of years, Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard looked to remind both veteran outdoorspeople and those who are new to ice activities how to stay safe when out on the ice.

“The one thing that I've learned in my position over the years is, ice is never truly safe and every winter has challenges,” Goddard said.

Some of the challenges this year are related to the amount of snow the area received and the unseasonable rain in December, leaving some lakes with unusual ice conditions in areas that are often heavily traveled.

“What we're seeing now is a flooding problem with ice cracks opening open up or people that are drilling holes, and the weight on the ice from the snow is simply pushing the water up on top,” Goddard said. “So our ice conditions are really variable.”


Goddard said everyone should take the time to plan their trip before going out on the ice. He recommends talking to other anglers about the condition of the ice, as there are a number of social media sites where people talk about areas that are open or unsafe.

Some of the bigger resorts in the area provide an ice report and people that cater to the ice fishing community keep updates on ice conditions on area lakes. Terry’s report can be found online , in the Outdoor News fishing report, or in person at Terry’s Boat Harbor in Garrison.

Then there are the local bait shops that tell people not only where the fish are biting but also the safest avenue to get out and go fishing, said Goddard. S and W Bait , in Brainerd, provides area ice and fish conditions on a board in their shop.

Goddard added simply driving to the lake’s public access beforehand and observing what is already there and how others are getting around can give you a good idea of what the ice conditions are.

“If you drive around our area lakes, we've got a number of them, that we see the wheelhouses out,” Goddard said. “They're the heavier wheelhouses that are so popular today and in some of our area lakes, it's pretty vacant. Which is a really easy indication of the current ice conditions out there.”

Take time to research, have a plan to self-rescue and also let people know, where they're going and when they plan on returning, said Goddard. Knowing where to look and when to start looking for someone makes a big difference when someone needs help.

For more information on ice safety, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ice safety website .

How to save yourself

If you do break through, try to remain calm.


  1. Turn in the water towards the direction you came from — that is probably the strongest ice.
  2. Dig the points of the picks into the ice and while vigorously kicking your feet — remember that by kicking your feet, the thrust of the kicks can help push you back onto the solid ice. Pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
  3. Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
  4. Get to shelter, heat, warm dry clothing and warm, non-alcoholic, and non-caffeinated drinks.

Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering, or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia — a life-threatening drop in the body's core temperature.

Instructions for making ice picks

  1. Get two 4-inch pieces of wooden doweling the size of a broom handle or a little larger. Whatever material you select, it should float in case you drop the picks while struggling.
  2. Drive a stout nail into one end of each dowel. This should be a hardened 16 penny or larger concrete nail.
  3. Use a file to sharpen the nail heads to a point.
  4. Drill a hole into the dowels at the end opposite the nail and tie a length of strong cord through the hole so a pick is on each end "jump-rope" fashion. You may also drill a hole in the ends alongside the nails so the nail on the other pick can nest in the hole, keeping both points covered. Keep the ice picks immediately accessible for quick emergency access if you or a companion do breakthrough.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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