Ice thickness

The Iowa DNR's ice thickness recommendations. 

OSKALOOSA — South Central Iowa outdoorsmen may soon have the opportunity once again to take to area lakes to enjoy the celebrated winter sport of ice fishing.

A mild start to the winter led to a delay in many lakes freezing over, but forecast predictions suggest that sturdy ice may be just a few weeks away.

Before going out, there are several important safety precautions to keep in mind.

One of the most vital aspects of ice fishing safety is knowing the ice you are on.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports that it can take a week or more of below freezing temperatures for safe ice to form.

There is no foolproof way to test ice safety, as even “thick enough” ice can give way and lead to dangerous situations, but the Iowa DNR recommends a minimum of four inches of clear ice for ice fishing.

“If you want the official answer, ice is never safe,” Mahaska County Conservation Director Dave Sedivec said. Even when ice appears strong, additional precautions can be life-saving should a situation turn dangerous.

Ice thickness can be checked by drilling a hole at the shore.

According to the DNR, Four inches of clear blue ice or eight inches of black, honey-combed ice will safely hold an adult-sized person. Five to six inches of clear blue ice is needed for snowmobiles, four-wheelers, or groups of three or more people.

An avid ice fisher himself, Sedivec recommends that all who venture onto the lakes this winter take with them ice picks for safety. The picks can be used to pull oneself out of the water if a fall occurs.

Sedivec also advises against going alone to minimize risk.

“Try not to go alone, but if you do go alone, make sure somebody knows where you’re at and when you’re planning on coming back,” he said.”

If remaining cognizant of present dangers and following proper precautions, ice fishing in Mahaska and Marion counties can be a rewarding and fun winter activity for those looking to spend some time outdoors.

Anglers can expect to catch bluegill, large mouth bass and crappies in many of the region’s fishing hotspots, including Mahaska County’s own Hawthorn Lake and White Oak Conservation Area, but Sedivec recommends fishing on farm ponds if granted permission.

“if you can get permission to fish farm ponds, it’s some of the best fishing in Iowa,” he said.

Ice fishing also expands opportunities for those who otherwise don’t get the chance to fish the middle of the lake in summer.

“These bigger bodies of water, if you don’t have a boat, you’re restricted to fishing the shoreline during the open water season,” Sedivec said. “Tt’s a lot smaller investment to get into ice fishing and you can go all across the lake and fish all these places that are inaccessible if you don’t have a boat during open water season.”

Shannon Rabotski can be reached at

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