NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodOshkosh


On thin ice: Late start to ice season handicaps fishermen, presents hazards

Posted at 11:42 PM, Jan 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-11 09:08:46-05
  • The 2023-24 winter has seen minimal ice coverage on Northeast Wisconsin bodies of water, preventing fishermen and others from getting on the ice
  • A fisherman, ice rescue specialist and firefighter warn against testing the ice too early
  • The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources does not measure ice thickness, but the De Pere Fire Rescue provides the following recommendations for clear ice:
    • 3 inches or less: Stay off
    • 4 inches: Walking, fishing, ice skating
    • 5-6 inches: Snowmobile or ATV
    • 8-12 inches: Cars and small trucks
    • 12-15 inches: Medium trucks
    • 16-17 inches: Heavy duty trucks
  • Sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago begins Feb. 10

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

Ice season is off to such a slow start, it's not safe to walk out onto the ice alone. Ice fishing guides say the early ice is the best, but even experienced people aren't risking going out too soon.

"I could go out on some skinny ice, but I would never take a customer out there on that," Matt Mertens said.

Mertens grew up on the Lake Winnebago's west shore.

"I absolutely love my ice fishing," Mertens said, "and I hate sitting on the shore — looking out there, seeing a little bit of ice build up, and then it goes away; little bit of ice, then it goes away.

Mertens and Don Herman, another local, say the late arrival of the ice is becoming a regular thing.

"The last few years have been weak on the ice thickness," Mertens said.

"I think it's becoming a trend," Herman said. "We've been getting late ice for the last 4-5 years."

Herman helps build a makeshift road across the lake every year — if it freezes over.

"Normally, right now, this time of year, we're almost ready to put our bridges out," Herman said. "As you can see, it's still open."

Herman owns a company that pulls cars and other vehicles out of the lake if they go through the ice.

He says people need to be careful not to put their safety on thin ice.

"It never freezes consistently," he said. "Sometimes you've got four or five inches in one place, and you might only have two in another. So that's where people get in trouble."

Firefighters up in De Pere are also trained to rescue people who fall through the ice. They say to pack ice picks, and measure the thickness of the ice before venturing out.

"You want to be careful of the color of the ice too," Battalion Chief Ron Cody said. "Clear ice is a nice solid ice, but the ice that has the greyish look to it — bubbles, things like that — can crack."

Cody and Herman agree that many love the ice, but the ice doesn't always love back.

"Ice is never 100% safe," Cody said.

"No ice is 100% safe," Herman said.

"Frigid weather next week could bring good ice conditions in time for sturgeon spearing season — which starts February 10.