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Jarrid Houston column: Safe ice is coming soon; please be patient

Lessons abound after 200 Red Lake anglers were stranded on ice they thought was safe.

Jarrid Houston
Jarrid Houston
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We are so close to ice fishing that we can almost taste it. We have been checking early ice spots and have found very few that are walkable for fishing.

This week, the world was reintroduced to a little bit of early ice reality. It's no secret many anglers got caught in a pickle on Upper Red Lake on Monday. With little snow and winds that can shift ice plates, a crack formed and split open a big hazard. That spurred 911 calls to the local authorities. Many people were assisted off the ice and thankfully no one got hurt. It is another example of humble pie and the power of Mother Nature. It really puts things into perspective, as we seem to be rushing early ice more than ever.

With all that said, I believe the cold snap in the forecast for this week and weekend will lock up some fishable early ice spots for walking traffic only. What does that mean? Packing light and not hauling out the big heavy tubs full of equipment. I like to travel with a small one-man shelter, a chisel, a Vexilar, a K-drill and a few rods and a handful of lures and bait. And of course, the proper safety equipment which I touched on last week . I don't bring the big heavy two-man flips with the heavier augers and heavy gear.

Let's talk about the ice we have been on and the current status of fishing in our community:

Lake Superior actually had a couple of open water anglers in kayaks trying luck on the big pond. Very dangerous in my opinion, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone that is new to paddling. The anglers that have been trying luck are certainly proficient and experienced kayak fishermen. The success has been minimal according to our sources, but wanted to share anyway, as it seems interesting. Ten years ago, fishing out of a kayak was mostly unheard of. Now it’s a popular way to get on the water. Other than that, we are still a long way from ice angling on the Gitch. It will probably be a month or more until we start to tip-toe on the early spots around Ashland.

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ice safety graphic
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

The St. Louis River Estuary has some sections locked up entirely with ice, but it is in no way safe. The sections around Oliver and north and south are ice covered. But, up near Fond du Lac and north of Clough Island and much of Spirit Lake are still open water. With the cold temps on the horizon, we will be making some ice each night now. I forecast we will start to see ice safe angling on the St. Louis by Christmas.

The small shallow lakes of Northwestern Wisconsin and Northeastern Minnesota have locked up and offered tempting ice angling. We will be sharing some time on these early ice spots in conjunction with working sports shows. Remember, the officials recommend 4 inches of clear solid ice to walk. I recommend and encourage 5-6 inches. The most ice we have found in our area of the world is just that, 5-6 inches, but won't name the lakes. Again, we are almost there. Be patient as it will again be a long ice-angling season ahead of us.

In the meantime, come and visit us at the St. Paul Ice show this weekend as we again will be working the Northland Fishing Tackle booth and highlighting new products coming out this winter. The Duluth ice show is Dec. 9-11.

Be safe! See you soon!

Jarrid Houston of South Range is a fishing guide ( houstonsguideservice.com ) on Minnesota and Wisconsin inland waters, the St. Louis River and, in winter, on Lake Superior.
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