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Holiday cold front should warm ice fishermen’s hearts

Call me sentimental, nostalgic or maybe even a little on the mature side, but it is New Year’s Day. So I will begin this column by wishing all of you a Happy New Year. Perhaps this is the old school thing to do, but I do miss the days when everyone wished each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. That was before the holiday season was completely driven by retail interests and political correctness.

It is Wednesday morning, and as I sit down at the keyboard, there are snow flurries outside my window. The temperature is a balmy 34 degrees, and it looks as if we finally might have a winter in Southern Nevada. For a day or two anyway.

We even have a winter storm warning in the valley. Until now, we haven’t even had the heat turned on in our home. Lakes and reservoirs normally frozen over have been mushy at best, making the thoughts of ice fishing just that. But this cold front is sure to stiffen things up a bit.

Even such popular ice fishing destinations as Panguitch Lake and Enterprise Reservoir in southern Utah have been slow to ice up. So, too, has Cave Lake near Ely and the reservoirs at Sunnyside (Kirch Wildlife Management Area), so this blast of cold air from the north country is sure to get things jump-started. At Spring Valley State Park near Pioche, home to Eagle Valley Reservoir, the forecast calls for a high temperature of 17 degrees with a wind chill of 3 degrees. Reports had the ice at 4 inches thick early this week, but that is sure to increase by this weekend.

This is good news for hard-water anglers who have been waiting for ice to form at their favorite ice-fishing destination. Now they no longer have to while away the days by repetitively sorting through their tackle.

Just the other day, my friends and I briefly discussed the whole concept of ice fishing. For guys who fish with a fly-rod, the whole idea of walking onto a slab of ice to catch fish is counterintuitive. Admittedly, I am not a died-in-the-wool hard-water angler, but it is something I enjoy doing, as long as the ice is thick enough to drive a truck on. Not that I would drive any motorized vehicle onto a frozen body of water, but I want the ice on the thick side.

When is ice safe enough for fishing? That is a tough question, because everyone seems to have his own opinion. So I decided to check with the experts from Minnesota, the land of frozen water and where everybody fishes through the ice.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, “There really is no sure answer. You can’t judge the strength of ice just by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, or whether or not the ice is covered with snow. Strength is based on all these factors — plus the depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, the distribution of the load on the ice and local climatic conditions.”

So what does that mean? There is no such thing as ice that is 100 percent safe. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources recommends that “there should be a minimum of 4 inches of good clear ice before walking out onto the lake, and at least 6 or more inches before taking a snowmobile or ATV on the ice. This is only provided as a general rule, many factors influence ice conditions, and ice conditions are not uniform around the lake. Some areas may have plenty of ice, and others very little. For this reason, it is not advisable to venture onto the ice until at least 6 inches or even more is present.”

When you do venture onto an ice-covered lake or reservoir, never go it alone. That way, if one of you should have a mishap and fall through the ice, someone is there to help. If you go in a group, be sure to spread out over the ice so you are not concentrated in a small area.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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