"Horrible," variable," "inconsistent" and "slushy." Those are some of the adjectives used by those out tiptoeing across area lakes this season, even as we race into January.
A few die hards have been heading out in search of fish willing to bite. Most of those anglers have been doing so out of portable houses but a number of small spear houses have also been spotted. One of the biggest factors to the lack of ice is due to repeat heavy snowfalls before the ice was able to thicken much beyond a few inches. Area conservation officers have been watching conditions and even heard of several vehicles going through the ice around lakes country.
"In general with the snow that we've received early in the season, ice conditions are not consistent," Henning conservation officer Tricia Plautz said of the situation. "A lot of slush."
Perham area conservation officer Chris Vinton said the latest incident he heard of involved a pickup truck going through the ice on Otter Tail Lake. In that case on Jan. 1, a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado fell through the ice about 50 yards from shore, near Barky’s Resort.
Plautz also had examples of an ATV and fish house going through ice on West Battle Lake and a vehicle going through on Pelican Lake, both in Otter Tail County.
It's more typical for anglers to be muscling through 20 inches of ice by now, but officers indicate ice can range from 4 inches to a foot in just a hundred yards this season. The Minnesota DNR recommends a foot of ice before vehicle traffic should be considered and 4 inches is recommended for foot traffic. Plautz recommends those going out don't do so with a vehicle, and check ice thickness often.
"The calendar does not tell us how much ice is out there," Plautz said.
While some anglers set up shop on lakes after the first snow, many picked up and left after this latest drop of about a foot of snow. Conditions were already slushy and this latest addition of wet snow made for a double layer .
"Not good is an understatement," Vinton said of the conditions. "Some lakes have two layers of slush."
Detroit Lakes conservation officer Jake Swedberg said anglers in his area were having trouble finding high ground to set up portable shelters. Bemidji conservation officer Brice Vollbrecht shared that there's a lot of slush on his area lakes, limiting the number of anglers he's seen.
Wadena area conservation officer Jordan Anderson, said ice conditions that he's seen have been, "horrible at best."
"People need to use caution," Anderson said. He suggested anglers watch the weather forecast and be prepared to remove shelters if they have a permanent one out on the ice. Leaving one in the current slush with more snow on the way could mean the owners are unable to remove them before it's too late.
He said that it's already difficult to get out with up to 2 feet of snow on top of 6 inches of slush. With ATV travel almost non existant, most anglers he's seen are on foot or snowmobile.
What can fix it, Vinton said, is a long deep freeze.
"About the only thing that fixes that is for the snow to soak up the water and then cold (below zero) temps can freeze it," Vinton wrote in an email.
We may be taking a step in that direction as low temperatures through the week are expected to be in the single digits to below zero, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks. Even so, officials warn anglers that conditions are bad now, and extreme caution should be taken while out on area bodies of water.
What about OTC on Ice?
There's about 11 inches of ice at ground zero for this year's OTC on Ice, a festival entering its third year on Otter Tail Lake. This year the event takes place Jan. 31 - Feb. 1. Event organizer Erik Osberg said he'd like to see 20 inches to ensure the big crowds of people can enjoy the event safely.
"18 inches would be a toss up," Osberg wrote in an email. "I know we are a long way from that, but there is some cold temps in the forecast."
He added that the event has overcome uncertainty the last two years, so he's hopeful all will go well again. If conditions don't improve quickly, the organizers do have a contingency plan and plan to make their decision by Jan. 23.
The lineup of events this year includes an official MN Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 1 and an online fishing derby. Music lineup includes; Tigirlily, 32 Below, Patrick Murphy, Corey Medina & Brothers, White Iron Band and Whiskey Business. Find out more at ottertaillakescountry.com/otc-on-ice/ .