Three tents appeared on the frozen-over Lake Ripley Nov. 26, when conditions faired well for ice fishers. In one of the tents were fishermen and friends Joe Kottke and Eric Raiber.

Litchfield resident and 30-plus years ice fisher Kottke said there’s only one way to tell if the ice is ready.

“You have to physically go out and check the ice,” Kottke said. “[Eric and I] have both been watching this lake for the right conditions.”

Kottke said the thickness of the ice Nov. 26 was 4 inches.

“If you go on the internet, people will speculate and say its about 10 inches,” Kottke said. “But when you get out there, someone’s 10 inches may really only be four.”

According to the DNR, the minimum amount of ice thickness needed to support the average weight of a person is about four inches of clear, solid ice. The DNR advises to stay off any ice 3 inches or less thick. Ice that is 5-7 inches can support a snowmobile or ATV, 8-12 can support a small car or pickup truck and 12-15 can support a medium-sized truck.

If someone tries the ice out at less than 3 inches, they may risk going through it into freezing water. Kottke said he put himself through the ice this year to see what it was like.

“There’s nothing that really prepares you for the shock of the cold water,” Kottke said. “You can watch all of the videos you want or have ice picks, but you’ll never be prepared for it.”

Kottke said he puts safety first.

“My family knows I live on the ice,” Kottke said. “They know I’m not going to mess around on the ice. When I went through the ice, I was immediately frozen. Fight or flight kicks in.”

The DNR advises that “white ice” or snow ice is not as strong as new, clear ice. If the ice is covered in snow, the DNR suggests doubling the guideline inches of clear ice. Kottke said going out on the ice after it snows is not a good time to fish.

“The snow insulates the ice which can cause it to melt,” Kottke said.

Inside Kottke’s tent, friend Eric Raiber joins him with all kinds of gear and electronics including a heater, specialized fishing rods and jigs. Kottke’s setup includes an underwater camera.

“Inside this tent is more than $5,000 worth of gear,” Kottke said. “I’d rather put my beer money into my fishing gear.”

Raiber and Kottke saw a few smaller perch but were in search of one of what Kottke called their granddaddy: the Walleye. While out on the lake, the sound of cracking might scare some, but Kottke said that sound is a good sign.

“It means new ice is forming,” Kottke said.

Checking the ice

Minnesota does not measure ice thickness on its lakes, so fishers have the responsibility of checking the ice by a guideline of at least every 150 feet. Kottke and Raiber had one hole drilled outside of the tent to check the thickness, and two inside of the tent.

Temperature, currents, snow and rough fish can affect ice conditions, according to the DNR. There is more than one way to measure the ice. The most common ways are to use an ice chisel, ice auger, a cordless drill or by using a tape measure. Although the DNR said no ice is safe ice, these ways can help keep fishers safe on the ice.

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