Once late fall hits, It’s a time anxiously awaited by anglers and snowmobilers alike: ice-in.
Ice-in happens at different times for each of the many lakes of the Whitefish Chain. The Department of Natural Resources keeps ice-in date records, though the only records it has for the Whitefish Chain are for Lower Hay Lake and Ox Lake. The DNR shows that for Lower Hay ice-in is usually between Nov. 29 and Dec. 5, while Ox Lake, because of its smaller size, freezes over between Nov. 22 and Nov. 28. The DNR defines ice-in as the day when the entire lake is covered over with a layer of ice that endures for the entire winter.
This webcam shows a live view of Lower Hay Lake, which as of Nov. 25 was still open, meaning this year has shaped up as a longer than normal fall and later than normal ice-in. But, even on years with the record for latest ice-in dates, there has been plenty of winter fishing before spring hits.
The record for the earliest ice-in on Lower Hay was Nov. 11, 1983; while the latest ice-in was Christmas day, Dec. 25, 1977. For Ox Lake, the earliest ice in was Nov. 12, 1983, while the latest was Dec. 18, 1973.
Sportsmen should always keep in mind that just because the lake is iced over doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. The DNR gives recommendations as to what level of thickness is safe for activities on new, clear ice. If the ice is two inches or less, stay off. If it’s at least four inches thick, it’s safe to head out for ice fishing and other activities on foot. Five inches is thick enough for a snowmobile or ATV; eight to 12 inches is thick enough for a car or small pickup; and 12 to 15 inches is thick enough for a medium truck. These guidelines offer some peace of mind for a fun day out on the ice.
The booming and cracking that’s often heard on the ice isn’t necessarily dangerous. It’s the sound of the ice expanding or contracting as the air temperature changes, and is often heard in the morning and evening. Sometimes the ice can expand and buckle at the cracks, forming ice heaves or ice ridges on the lake. These ridges can create loud noises and even shake the earth if they are close to shore. Occasionally, liquid water and slush can be found at ice ridges, so they should be approached with some caution.
Always check the ice before going out onto the lake, and get an idea of ice thickness when you stop at local bait stores before your fishing expedition. Often bait stores are in-the-know on area lakes and are happy to help.
The DNR lists lots of easy, great ways to check ice thickness, and details more information about ice safety, here . We’ll see you out on the ice before long!