A fatal fall through the ice near Montezuma on Saturday underscored the risk, before most ice anglers had even stepped for the first time this season.
By midweek around here, several days of temperatures in the single digits to teens had added a little more heft to the early ice sheet on Lake Macbride and other area waters. And a few more ice shelters were dotting the surface.
While fresh ice usually is stronger, it is best to wait until it is 4 inches thick before venturing out on foot and 5 inches or more if astride an ATV or snowmobile. And drill test holes along your way. Ice thickness varies across any body of water.
Once safely in place, though, what should you expect as you drop a line?
“Early on, guys are catching a few 12-inch crappies on Lake Macbride,” DNR fisheries technician Chris Mack said. “Those are probably white crappies. Black crappies are running 7 to 9 inches; some are 10 inches. We sampled a big group of seven inchers in the spring.”
Expect most crappies to be on the smaller side, though.
It was crappies that anglers were fishing for Tuesday, north of the Macbride causeway. A series of rock piles, leading out from the handicapped pier, harbor crappies. Across the lake, shallow brush piles lure in crappies and the ice anglers pursuing them. This week, early ice setups were there and along the bank just west of the boat rental, as well as along the high lines on the other side of the beach parking lot. It was bluegills there, mostly, and expect them on the smaller side, 5 to 7 inches.
Bluegills should run a little larger out of Kent Park. Mack also says a big year class of 8- to 9-inch crappies has been sampled there this year.
Elsewhere around east central Iowa, Hannen Lake in Benton County has good crappie populations of 10- to 12-inchers.
“Look for them in 15 or 20 feet of water, fishing about 10 to 14 feet down,” Mack said. “Bluegills should show in around brush there.”
Look for the deeper water in farm ponds, too. Fish will try moving away from the light penetration in those deeper spots, though the snow cover may throw out that concern.
A ways to the north, Pleasant Creek Lake near Palo could offer up walleyes.
“A minnow on a slip bobber or a jigging spoon, down closer to the dam or along the road bed,” Mack said. “Probably a little better luck around dusk, lower light conditions.”
Pleasant Creek is holding a pretty good population of 14-inch walleyes, with scattered 16- to 20-inchers.
Diamond Lake, Lake Iowa, Silver Lake and Coralville Lake (good crappies, running larger than in Macbride next door) also will get looks from early season ice fishing enthusiasts.
Keep in mind, your 2013 fishing license is good only through Jan. 10 unless you bundled it and bought the new three-year license.
• FACEBOOK, ANYONE? Get your wildlife questions answered live on Facebook later today. From noon to 2:30 p.m., Karen Kinkead, DNR wildlife diversity program coordinator, and Willie Suchy, DNR wildlife research supervisor, will field questions. Post your question as a comment on the “Live Q&A” post that the DNR will have up at noon. You can also post questions ahead of time on the DNR’s Facebook timeline at www.facebook.com/iowadnr. Questions received after 2:30 p.m. will be answered but at a later time.
DEER LICENSE, HARVEST NUMBERS DOWN: Heading into Iowa’s last big 2013 hunting weekend, the reported deer harvest and sale of deer tags are both down a little across Iowa compared to 2012. That may be due to the cold weather or could be an acknowledgement that hunters are seeing fewer deer.
Through last weekend, sales dipped 6 percent to 11 percent for regular first- and second-season and landowner tags, as well as county antlerless tags.
Hunters reported 32,746 deer harvested across that five day first shotgun season. Through the first couple days of the later shotgun season, 6,015 had been tallied, with more coming through this weekend, of course. The second season ends Sunday.
Joe Wilkinson, information specialist for the Department of Natural Resources, is the Press-Citizen’s outdoors columnist.