Safety, timing keys to successful ice fishing
January 10, 2020


Although locals are using words like "slow" or "spotty" to describe this year's ice fishing season, plenty of people are taking their pickup trucks and SnowBears onto area lakes in search of a good catch.

A recent trip to Antelope Lake in southern Pierce County showed one lone ice house sitting far from a deserted shore. Nearby Clear Lake showed no sign of activity. Goose Lake, just across the county line in Wells County, was an empty field of ice dotted with a few raised areas and puddles that reflected sunlight on a relatively warm day. Temperatures reached above the freezing mark for several hours.

Pierce County resident and Rugby High School agriculture instructor Kasey Okke, who lives near Antelope Lake, told the Tribune he hadn't noticed much activity during the lake recently, although some ice houses took up spots on a northern bay in the lake "about two weeks ago."

The North Dakota Department of Game and Fish offered a "free weekend" Dec. 28 and 29 for residents ice fishing in state lakes. Anglers were able to fish in the lakes without paying fees.

Rugby High maintenance staffer David Tofte, who normally goes ice fishing in the area, said, "I haven't gone out yet (to fish). Tofte said of Antelope Lake, "They had open water and something like a SnowBear fell through, so people are staying off of it."

Okke said he had heard about the SnowBear, a lightweight fish house on tracks, going through as well.

However, Okke said mid-January can be a busy time for Antelope Lake, and he saw fishing guides take a group onto the ice a year ago this weekend.

Terry Hoffert of Rugby's Hardware Hank normally supplies information to the Tribune's Recreation Report said January is typically slow for ice fishing.

"Usually first ice is when fishing is the best, but it's dangerous," Hoffert noted. "There's been things that have fallen through the ice this year."

Although temperatures were mild last weekend, this week's cold snap would mean "plenty of ice. In most places, there is enough ice out now, but you still have to be careful as far as the conditions, especially on some of your bigger lakes," Hoffert said.

Hoffert said local anglers have told him, "Goose Lake and Antelope Lake have been slow. Some of those were pretty good earlier, but it's slow now, as far as I know."

Hoffert said he had heard of "some fishing on Sand Lake," a spot bordering the northeast corner of Pierce County. "They're catching some perch and a few Northerns there. That's about it. There are some people fishing on Sand Lake because it's close."

"Island Lake, by Wolford, they're supposed to be catching a fair amount of Northerns," Hoffert added.

Hoffert said fishing usually picks in in February and spring, when fish begin to spawn.

Tribune contributor Patricia Stockdill noted in this week's recreation report from Hardware Hank: "Few anglers on area lakes but limited reports. Some activity at Lake Metigoshe with the potential for bluegill and walleye."

District Fisheries Supervisor Jason Lee of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Riverdale oversees lakes and fishing in Pierce and other central North Dakota counties.

"I haven't been up there yet this winter to monitor ice conditions," Lee said. "I've checked a couple of lakes around here. One, east of Underwood called Coal Lake, had 14 inches of ice on it."

"Another one north of Turtle Lake, called Lake Brekken had about 12 inches of ice," Lee added.

"It got pretty warm there for awhile. We had some melting and some water moving onto the lakes. I have noticed out in Coal Lake, there's some water sitting on top of the ice that's mixed in with the snow and kind of creates these slush pockets. But like I said, I haven't been to any lakes in Pierce County."

Lee said of the changing weather, "It looks like it's going to cool off, and those temps in the single digits and the negative numbers at night will help make ice, but with some snow cover on the ice, it creates a blanket or insulation, too, so it will slow down the ice formation."

"We always tell people that ice is never safe and it's always a good idea to check it as you're going on the ice in many different spots."

Lee said early in the season, most anglers use "a spud bar or ice chipper bar and hit the ice with the bar to see how thick it is. Later on, folks will take an ice auger and drill holes as they move onto the ice, especially if they're driving a pickup or larger vehicle."

Lee said conditions seemed to be good for ice fishing near his office in Riverdale.

"On Lake Audubon - it's just north and east of Riverdale here - there have been people driving pickups and ice houses out on the lake for two weeks."

Lee added biologists from the Riverdale office normally visit Pierce County lakes in February to check for dissolved oxygen levels, a key to supporting healthy lakes and fish populations.

"That way we can kind of predict where we might see winter kills or fish kills and adjust our stocking plans according to that information," he said.

Lee said one piece of advice remains constant for ice fishing in North Dakota lakes.

"My main recommendation is to check the ice as you go on it and make sure it's thick enough."


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