Current ice measuring just over nine inches thick.

As Minnesotans know, weather can vary throughout the state; the same is true for ice conditions. In the north, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers report more than 800 ice houses on Lake of the Woods, while boat anglers are fishing on parts of the Mississippi River near Le Crescent in the southern part of the state.

Given the uneven conditions, the DNR urges people to think twice before going out on the ice.

“Ice is never 100 percent safe,” said Capt. Greg Salo, DNR regional enforcement supervisor in St. Paul. “Don’t put yourself in needless danger by going out on thin ice. No fish is worth your life.”

Many lakes and rivers across the state have between five and six inches of ice. Ice conditions can change at any moment. The DNR reminds anglers and snowmobilers to be cautious.

Last winter, four people died after falling through thin ice.

Salo recommends anyone heading out on the ice should carry a set of ice picks, check with a local bait shop or resort – ask about ice conditions – and measure the ice.

According to Parks Director Daryl Bergs, Sleepy Eye Lake has between nine and nine and a half inches of ice on it. More shallow areas of the lake like by the beach have about 13 inches of ice, he said.

“We are making good ice because there isn’t a lot of snow on the lake,” Bergs said. “The ice is looking pretty good and it’s going to stay cold enough.” 

Bergs said people can begin pulling out light and portable fish houses with their snowmobiles or four-wheelers now, but heavier houses and vehicles should wait until there is at least 12-15 inches of ice.

“Last year we had a problem because we just didn’t have the cold weather,” Bergs added. “Last year the annual Sportsman’s Club Fishing Contest had to be held at Sportsman’s Park. But this year we are making good ice and there isn’t a lot of snow on it.”

Sportsman’s Club member Larry Evers said the club is gearing up to have the fishing contest on the lake this year. He said members have already been gathering prizes and designing posters that will be placed around town after the first of the year advertising the event. The event will be held the first Sunday in February on Super Bowl Sunday.

The fishing outlook, according to the DNR, indicates Sleepy Eye Lake had good numbers of largemouth bass averaging 13 inches. Evers said northern, crappie, perch and sunfish are popular catches on the lake.

Conservation officers with the DNR remind ice anglers that shelters placed on the ice of Minnesota waters must have either the owner’s complete name and address, a driver’s license number, or the nine-digit DNR number on the license of the owner plainly and legibly displayed on the outside of the shelter, in letters and figures at least two inches high.