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Sheriff's Corner: Be cautious on late season ice

Cass County sheriff shares safety advice for anglers, others venturing ice

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com / PineandLakes.com

CASS COUNTY — With nicer, warmer spring weather and sun, people are often spending more time outdoors and with that on area lakes.

Places that you may have thought about traveling or walking without hesitation just a few weeks or a month ago need to be reconsidered for safety.

Late-season ice fishing can be an exciting time for anglers as fish become more active and willing to bite. However, it’s important to remember that ice conditions can be highly variable and dangerous during this time of year.

In this column, we’ll go over important tips to help you stay safe while ice fishing during the late season and share information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other sources.

Bryan Welk
Chief Deputy Bryan Welk has announced his candidacy for Cass County Sheriff in the 2022 election.
Contributed / Bryan Welk

Ice gets thinnest and worse near shore first, especially in areas exposed to the afternoon sun. Be especially careful when you start seeing weak ice in those areas. Four-inch-thick ice may be fine for early in the season, but it may not be enough late in the season.

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As it starts to melt, “honeycomb” and break apart it becomes very unstable and can’t be trusted. Use a chisel to check ice thickness and hardness.

Be careful around objects, such as logs, standing trees or rocks. Anything that might absorb more warmth from the sun can result in weaker ice adjacent to it.

If you are out for an extended period; check ice conditions throughout the day. On a warm day on late ice, conditions can change by the hour, and that is especially true if the wind is blowing. Be careful about getting on the ice early in the day, then fishing all day. After a warm day, you might find it hard to get off the ice where it was no problem first thing in the morning.

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1. Check ice conditions before heading out

Before heading out onto the ice, it’s essential to check the current ice conditions. Late-season ice can be highly unpredictable due to fluctuating temperatures, wind and snowfall.

Check local weather and ice reports and be sure to avoid areas with thin or unstable ice. It’s also a good idea to bring an ice auger or chisel bar to check the thickness of the ice as you go.

2. Dress for the weather

Dressing appropriately for the weather can help prevent hypothermia and frostbite, which are both serious risks during late-season ice fishing and recreating. Be sure to wear warm, waterproof clothing, including insulated boots, gloves and a hat.

It’s also a good idea to wear a life jacket or float coat, especially if you plan to fish alone or in an area with known hazards.

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3. Bring safety equipment

In addition to a life jacket, it’s important to bring other safety equipment with you on your fishing trip. This can include ice picks or ice claws to help you climb out of the water if you fall in, a whistle to signal for help and a first aid kit to treat any injuries.

4. Fish with a buddy

Fishing with a buddy is always a good idea, but it’s especially important during late-season ice fishing. If one person falls through the ice, the other can help pull them out or call for help.

Make sure to stay within sight of each other at all times, and never fish alone. If heading out alone for any reason, make sure that someone knows your destination, path and return time.

5. Avoid alcohol

Alcohol can impair your judgment and increase your risk of falling through the ice. It can also lower your body temperature and increase your risk of hypothermia.

Save the drinks for after you’ve safely returned to shore and not planning on traveling.

6. Stay on marked trails/known routes

Staying on marked trails can help you avoid hazards and areas of thin ice. If you’re unsure of the safety of an area, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid it altogether.

7. Be prepared for emergencies

Even if you take all the necessary precautions, emergencies can still happen. It’s important to have a plan in place for what to do if someone falls through the ice or suffers from hypothermia or frostbite.

Make sure to carry a charged cellphone with you in case you need to call for help.

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In conclusion, late-season ice fishing, walking or exploring can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s essential to prioritize safety above all else. By following these tips, you can help ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable fishing trip.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: email bryan.welk@casscountymn.gov; call 218-547-1424 or 1-800-450-2677; mail to or visit the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W or P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484.

Bryan Welk is the Cass County sheriff.

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