The Nebraska Ice Fisherman Facebook page has 6,359 members. Each day there are posts that offer ice reports, answers to questions on equipment and tips to help beginners get started.
One of the main aspects of ice fishing is safety, and that changes throughout the season.
“At the beginning of the season when ice starts to harden, you need to make sure it’s good and solid and at least 4 inches thick,” said Julie Geiser, Nebraska Game and Parks public information officer. “For myself, I like 5 to 6 inches of good, clear ice.”
A spud bar is a good idea to test the ice out in front of you as you access the lake.
“Always take that spud bar with you or test-drill holes so you can check that ice, because sometimes the centers of the lakes are not going to be quite as frozen as the edges early on,” Geiser said. “Typically the first part of the season, the edges are going to freeze up first.”
Spud bars are heavy metal bars that the ice fisherman or fisherwoman can use like a walking stick. The point is pounded into the ice, which gives the fisher an idea of how solid the ice is before they take the next step.
“Then as time goes on you have to watch, especially on our reservoirs, for ice heaves,” Geiser said. “Our reservoirs run off the canal system and those gates that allow water in or out fluctuate the flow.”
Geiser said that creates changes in the ice on the surface of the reservoir.
“So, if more water comes in, what happens underneath the ice is that it will push that ice up and cause an ice heave, which is actually a weak spot in the ice,” Geiser said. “That has the potential for areas where people could fall through.”
She added that ice heaves can also go down into the water.
“So it’s not just an upward movement,” Geiser said. “And those are a little tricky to see, especially if you get any snowfall over the top of them.”
Moving into the end of the season, the fluctuation of temperatures can compromise the quality of the ice. Don Garrick, owner of the Minnow Bucket in North Platte, said this season has been a long one.
“The problem now isn’t how thick the ice is, it’s getting on the ice,” Garrick said. “The edges are the first to go.”
Geiser said the interstate lakes are a bit tricky at times.
“You really have to be careful, especially on the interstate lakes, because the west end could thaw potentially a little quicker than the east end, depending on temperatures and wind,” Geiser said. “All of that has an impact on the ice.”
The problem is that conditions sometimes change with the warming temperatures from early in the day to later in the afternoon.
“What happens sometimes is that people will go out in the morning, and when they come off, those edges have thawed and they’re finding themselves getting wet because that much of the ice has thawed and they’ll fall through,” Geiser said. “Or at least get wet.”
Snow can also affect the quality of the ice.
“You’re going to get black ice, honeycombed ice, and with the snowfall that we’ve had, that’s going to weaken the top part of the ice,” Geiser said. “You’re really going to have to check the ice to make sure it’s safe under the snow.”
One way to know if the ice is good and solid is by the shavings.
“When you are drilling a hole, you want the ice to come out with a snowcone shaving consistency,” Geiser said. “If it doesn’t come out like that with nice white shavings, if it looks more like ice cubes, you want to be careful.”
She said that means the ice is definitely a lot weaker.
Safety equipment is a must to have with you as you venture out on the hard water.
“I always carry 30 to 50 feet of rope with a throw cushion that you would use in your boat,” Geiser said. “I always have that rope tied onto the cushion.”
Other equipment is a coat that has a flotation device sewed inside it. Along with that, many coats or ice bibs come with loops to hold ice picks designed specifically for ice fishing.
The picks are used so if fishers fall through the ice, they can pull themselves up out of the water and back onto the surface of the ice.
“Use common sense,” Geiser said.