So, when can we go ice fishing? Mild late fall weather is adding to the unpredictability of guessing when we’ll find safe ice.
For ice to form, cold air temperatures have to suck heat energy from the water.
Remember how long it took for your favorite swimming lake to warm up last summer?
Well, that same energy between water molecules has to move back into the air to produce freezing water temperatures, and, hence, ice.
Many lakes and backwaters haven’t even skimmed over yet.
I remember times years ago when we were ice fishing the weekend after the general hunting season ended.
Not this year. We haven’t had cold enough nights.
New ice forms under existing ice, which brings up another factor that hasn’t entered the equation yet this winter.
Snow acts as insulation on top of ice, slowing the formation of new ice layers.
If wind blows off the snow, the insulation effects are less, ice forms quickly and ice skating is great.
Thick layers of snow slow down the formation of new ice, push thin layers of ice down into the water, and may make travel on ice more dangerous.
If you understand this science stuff, you can probably judge the safety of new ice.
If not, stay off!
If nobody else has walked on the ice, stay off!
This is Montana. Wait a few weeks and we’ll have plenty of cold weather, snow and ice.
Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.