With the firearms deer season in the rearview mirror (final harvest numbers coming next weekend on this very page) and Thanksgiving done, the attention of those of us who live and breathe the outdoors will undoubtably turn toward a couple of winter favorites: Ice fishing and snowmobiling.
The waiting is hard part of course and while we are close, it’s not quite time to do either yet.
When it comes to getting on a frozen lake and dropping a line in search of our favorite fish dinner, very few anglers are as passionate about the sport as those in Minnesota. In fact, many men and women have been fishing straight through the fall, long after fair-weather types winterized their boats in September.
They love it and that kind of passion sometimes leads to mistakes when it comes to getting on the ice. While there is no good answer to the question, “when is ice safe, ” there are some general precautions one can take to try and avoid a mishap that could land you, your vehicle, or both in freezing water.
Every year there are stories of anglers falling through thin ice and while many end positively, death is one possible outcome of taking unnecessary risks just to catch a fish.
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say people should stay off of ice that is under four inches thick. When it is at four inches, experts say ice fishing or other activities can be done on foot.
You need an ice thickness of five to seven inches for a snowmobile or ATV; eight to 12 inches for a car or small pickup; and 12 to 15 inches for a medium sized truck.
Something to remember though: You need to double those numbers to travel on white ice and a wide variety of things can have an effect on thickness from temperature, to snow cover, currents and springs. DNR officials say ice is seldom the same thickness over a single body of water - can be two feet thick in one place and one inch thick a few yards away. Check the ice at least every 150 feet.
You can check ice depth using a number of items, including a chisel, auger, cordless drill and a tape measure.
Another good source of information would be resort owners on the lake you plan to fish or talking to bait shop owners, who often get a lot of good information from locals.
At the end of the day, be safe, not sorry.
We currently only have a couple of inches of snow on the ground in northern Minnesota – not really a great base for running a snowmobile – but no doubt some have already taken a spin in their yards or through the ditches (me) during the few snow dumps we got since October.
While it’s fun to get out and smell that two-stroke after a long, hot summer, most people know the snowmobile trails themselves are closed until Dec. 1.
And even when that date rolls around during a year when we have a lot of early snow, club members who groom the vast majority the 22,000 miles of trails in the state, probably prefer riders take their sweet time hitting the backwoods so that they can get out and do much needed work before the season kicks into high gear (usually around Jan. 1).
This is the time of year when club members can finally access their particular stretch of trail to clear blowdown and double check everything to make sure we all get to play on the best trail network in the country.
So what can all of us sled heads do in the meantime? Make sure we are ready to rock once the trails are in shape, of course. Tune ups (if you haven’t already done so), quick test runs, and maybe most important: Make sure your stickers are up to date.
Last December my buddy and I loaded up our sleds on his trailer and headed to Lake Vermilion for an early season run (once the ice was thick enough) and it wasn’t until we arrived that I realized I hadn’t renewed my registration.
The State of Minnesota requires a current registration on snowmobiles. At this time, you do not need a certificate of title for your snowmobile. There are two options for that: Trail or non-trail use.
The trail use registration fee is $113.50 for three years and includes unlimited use of Minnesota’s 22,000 miles of state and grant-in-aid trails.
The non-trail use registration fee is $53.50 for 3 years and is not transferable. A snowmobile that is registered for non-trail use may not be operated on a state or grant-in-aid trail including a grant-in-aid trail in a road right-of-way.
A non-trail use registration requires a new registration number to be affixed to the snowmobile.
A state trail sticker is not valid for use on a non-trail use registered snowmobile.
If an individual wants to use a non-trail use registered snowmobile on a state or grant-in-aid trail, the snowmobile will need to be re-registered for trail use and a new registration number will be assigned.
A non-trail use registration decal will be yellow in color.
You can register your sled in-person at the local DMV or even easier, online at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales. html.