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Ice on region's waterways remains perilous in some locations, authorities warn

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - A couple of snowmobilers on Little Detroit learned the hard way not to taunt Mother Nature after they - and their sleds - ended up falling into the frigid lake on Friday afternoon.

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While most of Detroit Lake is iced over, open water remains for most of the year at the Pelican River outlet near the bowling alley. Two snowmobilers went through the thin ice near here last Friday. According to Becker County Deputy Sheriff, nobody was hurt, they were just “really cold.” DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - A couple of snowmobilers on Little Detroit learned the hard way not to taunt Mother Nature after they - and their sleds - ended up falling into the frigid lake on Friday afternoon.

According to Becker County Deputy Sheriff Shane Richard, three snowmobilers were riding out by the outlet channel near the bowling alley where the river flows (a place notorious for thin ice conditions and even year-round open water), when they reportedly ran into a spot of open water.

“The first one made it across, the second one - a female - wasn’t going fast enough, so she went in the water,” said Richard, who said the female was 17 years old. “The third one, a male, made it across, but then turned around to help the female, and when he got closer again, he went through the ice.”

Richard says police have no evidence to suggest this case was anything but an innocent accident, but does say that particular spot is known to draw in snowmobilers looking to “skip” the water.

“We’ve seen that a lot,” said Richard.

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In this case, Richard says the snowmobilers were able to get each other out of the water before warming up in a vehicle and then getting the snowmobiles out themselves as well. Although police responded, no rescue was needed.

Richard says nobody was hurt in this case, they were “just really cold.”

Weird ice

Experts say it’s been a strange start to the ice-making season.

“Yeah, we’ve kind of been all over the place,” said Nathan Olson, conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who says area lakes started out with a good skim coat when they first froze over. Things looked great for local ice fishermen, until that base was compromised first with snow, then with rain and warm conditions. Olson says the rain melted the snow, which caused crunchy top ice, which wasn’t made any better by the wind that kicked up.

“When it gets windy, it breaks things up and you get big chunks embedded, and it’s not as strong,” said Olson.

This has been the mixed bag of ice conditions thus far, but Olson says wind from over the weekend actually helped set the stage for more ideal ice making going forward, as it blew much of the insulating snow off the lakes. Now, every day that passes, that weakened base of ice is getting some fairly good reinforcements, and anglers are just now starting to take baby steps out onto the lakes.

“We’re starting to get some calls now for reservations,” said Dan Berg, owner of Lakecrest Resort on Long Lake. Up until this point things have been pretty quiet for Berg and other resorts around the lakes area. Now, however, things are heating up.

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“People are discovering that we do have some ice that you can venture out onto, when a lot of the parts of the state don’t have it yet,” said Berg, a statement Olson agrees with.

“So we might have some people from out of the area starting to come this direction because we’re one of the first ones to have good enough ice to at least walk onto,” said Olson.

Although all lakes are different in terms of ice thickness, so far the sensible anglers have only been walking out onto the lakes.

“We’re starting to see a lot of foot traffic on Little and Big Detroit,” said Olson. “I saw the first one out on Sallie yesterday (Monday), and there’s some fishing on Leaf Lake out by Cormorant, but Big Cormorant just iced over not too long ago, so I’d wait a couple weeks (even on foot) for that one.”

Olson says if an angler looks around and sees they’re one of the first ones out on lake, they need to be prepared for going through.

“Make sure to carry an ice pick on you so that if you do go in, you can pull yourself back out onto the ice,” said Olson. “And even wearing a life jacket right now shouldn’t be out of the question.”

Olson also suggests testing the ice in several locations on the way out to a fishing spot, as ice can be five inches thick in one spot, and extremely thin in another. Schools of fish, geese and springs can all be game-changers on any lake.

“So if you’re coming from out of town or you don’t know a lake very well, make sure to talk to bait shop and resort owners before going on,” said Olson. “And remember - no ice is 100 percent safe, but if you’re careful and pay attention, there is some opportunity out there right now to find some great fishing.”

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