By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
MADISON LAKE — Area residents haven’t had much need this winter to practice the “Minnesota Shuffle” — that careful, shuffling walk to navigate across icy sidewalks and parking lots.
But despite the dry pavement, Ryan White has had trouble keeping ice cleats in stock.
“I’ve sold a lot of them,” said White, who recently purchased Walt’s Hook Line & Sinker bait and tackle shop in Madison Lake.
The snowless winter has left lakes with glass-smooth ice, making walking and pulling out fish houses a challenge.
While walking on area ice has been generally safe — given the standard caveat that ice may never be entirely safe — a balmy weekend and record warm temperatures Monday have deteriorated ice.
“Right now, my advice is to use extreme caution when venturing out on the ice,” said Department of Natural Resources Southern Regional Enforcement Manager Phil Meier. “There’s no fish worth a human life.”
On the weekend, the wind blew melted water atop the ice, something that quickly deteriorates the ice underneath.
“Some of the lakes are opening up again,” Meier said. “We’re getting several reports of fish houses blowing right into open water. I’ve heard several reports on ATVs going through.”
He said those who do choose to go on the ice should wear a flotation device, let someone know where they are, and bring along ice picks they can use to pull themselves out if they break through the ice.
White said ice on area lakes had generally ranged from 3 inches to 8 inches. “The north shore of (Lake) Washington and off the Westwood bay seem pretty good,” White said of ice conditions. “The west bay on Lake Francis had 4 to 6 inches.”
But after temperatures in the 50s Monday, “Conditions might get a little sketchy” White said.
At least 4 inches of ice is recommended for walking on. White said many people are driving ATVs on the lakes and a few vehicles had ventured out.
For those who are on the ice, fishing has been decent, White said: Sunfish and some crappies on Madison, northern pike on big and little Lake Jefferson.
The unusual weather has even kept some anglers from parking their boats for the season. “There’s guys still fishing the river in boats,” White said.