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Lakes are making ice fast, but caution still needed

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Fishing Columnist Brad Laabs2 / 2

The holiday weekend is here and ice thicknesses range from 5 to 8 inches on area lakes. Little Detroit had 8 inches and Sallie, Melissa, and Big Detroit were sitting with 5-7 inches as of Thanksgiving.

Lakes like Rose, Lida, Big Cormorant, and Ottertail were the last to ice over, and were at about 5 inches consistently, with shallow bay areas having slightly more ice as of Thursday.

Lots of anglers were out on area lakes on Thanksgiving morning, and it was good to see that it was all walk-out activity on the lakes. As of now, ATV, UTV, and snowmobiles can get you around on the lakes. It would be prudent to wait until next weekend before taking a vehicle on the ice, even with the lakes that were sitting at 8 inches as of Thanksgiving Thursday.

Even next weekend, staying to the shallow basin lakes and making sure you have checked conditions before you just drive onto the lake will be the safe way to start your early ice fishing season.

Several vehicles have already been through the ice in North Dakota and Minnesota from drivers taking unnecessary risks. Stay away from current areas now, even if you are on foot. Ice can range from 6 inches to 2 inches in only a matter of feet when there is moving water underneath.

When you do take a vehicle onto the ice, before leaving the landing, take your seatbelt off. It is never a bad idea to open your window, and make sure the doors are unlocked.

Speed is the biggest issue I continually see with anglers driving on the ice. Many drive too fast. Stay to the 10-15 mph speed until we have two feet of ice. Then 15-20 mph can be OK. The vehicle weights down the ice and pushes a wave under the ice. Drive on the ice like you are in a "no wake zone" in a boat — because you are! Respect the ice and the winter conditions we have.

Mille Lacs Lake will have a walleye harvest this winter season starting Dec. 1. You will be allowed one walleye over 21 inches but under 23 inches, or over 28 inches. There will be no bait restrictions.

Red Lake will have a four walleye bag limit with only one being over 17 inches. Lake of the Woods, starting Dec. 1, will be eight walleye/sauger with no more than four being walleyes. Everything from 19.5 to 28 inches must be released. One over 28 inches will be allowed. As of now, that will be the regulation for Lake of the Woods until April 14.

There is a proposal for change of regulations for both Lake of the Woods and Rainy River. If they do change, it will be posted on yellow signs at the accesses, on the DNR website, and the media will also be notified to get the word out of any regulation changes.

The liberal northern pike limit of 10 (8 under 22 inches and 2 over 26 inches) remains for our area. All 22-26 inch northern must be returned to the lake. The specialty regulations of three under 24 inches (or two under 24 inches with one over 36 inches) remain in effect for Sallie and Melissa.

Always check your regulation book and the posted signs at the access of the lake you are fishing, so you understand regulations for that lake. In our area we have lakes with special walleye, northern, and crappie regulations. Enjoy the ice safely!

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)