Ice rescue prompts angler safety warning

Open water and ice houses
A view of Upper Red Lake from a DNR search plane on Saturday. Two anglers were later rescued from an ice floe, but they weren't the only ones on the lake that day. Each colored dot on the ice is a portable fish house.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Despite high winds, thin ice and wide swaths of open water, a handful of anglers decided to try their luck on Upper Red Lake Saturday afternoon.

When two of those anglers didn't come home, search teams scoured the lake.

According to Red Lake police, the anglers were found after midnight, stranded on a chunk of ice which had broken off and drifted out into open water. They were rescued safely and treated for hypothermia.

These kind of rescues are pretty common on Upper Red Lake. It's a large, shallow body of water. That means it often freezes early, but the ice can be unstable. Waves build up quickly, cracking apart ice sheets, sometimes with anglers onboard.

In 2015, 50 anglers had to be rescued.

But this year's rescue is earlier than usual. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recreation safety coordinator Lisa Dugan sees it as a cautionary tale.

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"Some lakes may have frozen early," she said. "But with temperatures in the 40s coming up this week, it might not be safe."

She recommends anglers stay off the ice until it's at least 4 inches thick and head for land if it seems unstable at all.

She also said that a lot of people won't take her advice.

"You know, no matter how many times you say that the ice isn't safe, it won't stop people from going out," she said. "Minnesotans love to ice fish. They get excited."

The Upper Red Lake rescue, she said, is a prime example.

"We have an aerial photo from the search plane," she said. "You can see there are several anglers out on the ice, not just the ones who had to be rescued, and they're very close to the open water."

The conditions were clearly unsafe, but people still tried to fish. And with many Minnesotans off work, and kids out of school this Thanksgiving, Dugan said a lot of people will be tempted to brave risky ice conditions.

DNR tips to stay safe on the ice

  • • Parents should talk to their kids about ice safety.

  • • Stay off the lake if the ice is porous, or less than 4 inches thick.

  • • Wear a lifejacket, just in case.

  • • Carry ice picks to aid in a self-rescue.

Ice is never 100 percent safe
Temperature, snow cover, currents, springs and rough fish all affect the relative safety of ice. This graphic shows the minimum thickness ice should be before someone should venture out on clear new ice. White ice or "snow ice" should be doubled the thickness.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources