Get The Ice Fishing Gear Ready, It Won’t Be Long Now If This Keeps Up!

Cloud cover Friday obscured satellite images of the region, but this satellite photo from Thursday shows ice beginning to form on Lake of the Woods, while Upper Red Lake (lower left) appeared to be mostly ice covered. Larger, deeper Lower Red had very little ice. (MODIS Today)

For several years, the weekend after Thanksgiving was my benchmark for getting on first ice, but that hasn’t been an option in quite a few years.

The past two years, in fact, I was fishing in a friend’s boat on the Red River north of Selkirk, Man., catching greenback walleyes the second weekend in November. The temperature both years was relatively balmy by November standards.

This year, not so much. This year, it looks like ice fishing before Thanksgiving is going to be a strong possibility, at least on smaller bodies of water.

Much as I like ice fishing, I’d have no complaints about fishing in a boat for a few more weeks.

Tyler Brasel of Bear Paw Guides on Upper Red Lake in Waskish, Minn., posted Wednesday on Facebook that he walked far enough out from shore to be atop 8 feet of water and had 4 inches of ice below his feet.

By Thursday night, he was fishing atop 5 inches of ice, landing his first walleye of the winter and missing a couple of others.

Upper Red is relatively shallow and is among the first large lakes to freeze every year.

I’ve also seen reports of anglers walking out on Maple Lake near Mentor, Minn., but again, I’d recommend waiting a few more days.

At this rate, though, it won’t be long.

Even Lake of the Woods is beginning to ice over. Sportsman’s Lodge north of Baudette, Minn., posted a photo taken today of Four-Mile Bay near Wheeler’s Point, and ice extended from shore as far as the eye could see.

“Not safe yet but the ice is taking shape,” the report said.

With no big warmup on the horizon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winter fishing season on the big lake kick into high gear by early December, if not before.

And if fishing reports this fall are any indication, early ice action on the big lake should be excellent.

It won’t be long before anglers are venturing onto shallow bays of Devils Lake or smaller lakes upstream in the basin either, I suspect.

In the meantime, die-hard ice fishing enthusiasts should resist the temptation to take any dumb chances and stick with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ ice thickness guidelines. Here’s the general rule:

Under 4 inches — stay off!

4 inches — ice fishing or other activities on foot.

5 to 7 inches — snowmobile or ATV.

8 to 12 inches — Car or small pickup.

12 to 15 inches — medium truck.

I’m looking forward to getting out on first ice and hope to squeeze in three or four trips, if not more, before Christmas.

This year, it appears that definitely will be doable.

The MODIS Today website, which features daily satellite images, is my go-to source for ice conditions across the region — at least on sunny days. I’ll be checking it regularly over the next couple of weeks.