Walking out of church a couple of weeks ago I overheard a conversation in which the participants were lamenting the December sun and warmer than average start to winter. The gist of the dialogue was something like "...it's not nice enough to golf and not cold enough to ice fish…."

Such are the struggles when a warm start to December follows a mild November.

Ice Fishing Float

Many anglers who haven't already ventured out to their favorite lake or a promising new destination are waiting anxiously for good ice to get their winter fishing season started.​

By now, a few days of more seasonal weather have moved in and I suspect golf would no longer fit into that conversation. But ice fishing is certainly a hot topic this year. I can't remember a year when I've heard so much positive chatter about ice fishing, and many anglers who haven't already ventured out to their favorite lake or a promising new destination are waiting anxiously for good ice to get their winter fishing season started.

And with good reason. North Dakota has a record number of lakes on the landscape right now and a lot of them have good populations of walleye, perch and/or northern pike.

Even though we're into mid-December, it's not too late to offer some ice safety reminders from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Some tips to be aware of are:
  • Snow insulates ice, hampering solid ice formation, and makes it difficult to check thickness. Snow also hides the blemishes, such as cracked, weak and open water areas.
  • Avoid cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signal thinner ice. The same goes for ice that forms around partially submerged trees, brush, embankments or other structures.
  • Ice thickness is not consistent and can vary significantly even in a small area. Ice shouldn't be judged by appearance alone. Anglers should drill test holes as they make their way out on the lake, and an ice chisel should be used to check ice thickness while moving around.
  • Daily temperature changes cause ice to expand and contract, affecting its strength.
  • The following minimums are recommended for travel on clear-blue lake ice formed under ideal conditions. However, early in the winter it's a good idea to double these figures to be safe: 4 inches for a group walking single file; 6 inches for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle; 8-12 inches for an automobile; and 12-15 inches for a pickup/truck.
These tips could help save a life:
  • Wear a personal flotation device and carry a cell phone.
  • Carry ice picks or a set of screwdrivers to pull yourself back on the ice if you fall through.
  • If someone breaks through the ice, call 911 immediately. Rescue attempts should employ a long pole, board, rope, blanket or snowmobile suit. If that's not possible, throw the victim a life jacket, empty water jug or other buoyant object.
  • To treat hypothermia, replace wet clothing with dry clothing and immediately transport victim to a hospital.
These tips aren't meant to scare anyone away from going on the ice, but it is a time of year when we all should thoroughly assess ice conditions before venturing out.

And if the ice isn't quite ready on your favorite lake, enjoy the nice weather and continue hunting for pheasant, grouse, partridge, turkey and archery deer through Jan. 3, 2016.

For more information on ice fishing regulations and North Dakota fishing waters, the Game and Fish Department's website at gf.nd.gov has a wealth of up-to-date information to get you pointed in the right direction for a successful ice fishing outing.