When I was younger I used to get so excited to get the ice fishing season started. Usually there was some new equipment to try and it had probably been a few weeks since I’d last been in a boat. Looking back, we probably didn’t make the best decisions to go on some of those early trips but we walked out and brought safety gear with us in case we did have a mishap on the ice. Fortunately we never had any problems.
Now that I’m older and maybe a little bit wiser, I don’t have a lot of interest in getting out on the ice until it’s good and solid. I want to see at least a few inches of ice to walk on and six or more to take a machine on. I’m talking good, clear solid ice as well, which we typically have early in the season. The warm weather last week was a little bit of a setback for making ice but we have some cold on the way that should start to lock everything up.
If you do have an itch to get out on the ice, I understand, but let’s make some good decisions on where to go. The smaller, shallow lakes are going to have the best ice early on and obviously, you want to avoid areas with current. The bigger lakes or any of the deep trout lakes are probably still wide open and won’t have good ice until at least closer to Christmas. My first trips were always on the smaller stocked trout lakes or inland crappie waters that freeze early.
These early season trips are not the ones you want to take alone. Bring a buddy and tell someone where you’re going. From a safety point of view, if you are walking on ice and you can feel it flexing or you’re seeing water come up through any cracks, you could probably do well to wait for a couple of more cold nights to lock things up.
There are a few items you can bring along on the first few trips to the ice that will help you out in case you step on the wrong spot. Some ice picks to pull yourself out in case you do go through. You can buy pairs of these that come connected, allowing you to wear them around your neck. You can also make your own set with large nails. Keep a good quality lighter in a dry bag in case you need to start a fire. Finally, consider wearing a life jacket when you head out. It’ll make it much easier to climb out in case you happen to break through.
When it comes to early season fishing, stocked trout and crappies have always been my favourites, and then once I can get out on Lake of the Woods, I like to fish walleyes out there. Crappies are often in the same spots you left them in the fall and the stocked trout can be caught in shallow water along the shorelines in the lakes that they are in. The OMNR Fish ON-LINE website has a full listing of all the stocked lakes in the province, how many fish have been stocked in recent years in each lake and the map on the site shows where each lake is located.
Common sense goes a long way in staying safe on the ice early in the season. If it doesn’t feel good, it’s probably not. Safe ice is solid.