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Fish houses, ATVs and drivers break through ice on west central Minn. lakes

Anglers with their fish house on Foot Lake seem unconcerned Thursday about the possibility of thin ice as they fish. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Bystanders rescued a 66-year-old ice fisherman when his three-wheel vehicle went through the ice at 2:53 p.m. Thursday on Lake Wakanda, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office reported.

The man had temporarily been trapped under the ice by the three-wheeler, but several bystanders at the scene assisted in rescuing the man by pulling him from the water and on to the ice.

The latest incident is among a growing number of close calls involving ATVs on area lakes as ice conditions deteriorate in the region.

At least two ice fishermen have had close calls on Kandiyohi County lakes in the two previous days when the all-terrain vehicles they were driving went into the water.

And, an ATV and its driver crashed into the waters of Lac qui Parle Lake last weekend. Ice conditions there have deteriorated since, and there are pockets of open water. Chippewa County and Lac qui Parle County sheriff's officers posted signs at public accesses on the lake on Thursday advising that ice conditions were hazardous.

"It's the most hazardous ice conditions I've seen out there,'' said Minnesota Conservation Officer Ed Picht of Montevideo.

There have been reports too of unoccupied ice fishing houses breaking through the ice. In recent days there have been ice fishing houses breaking through the ice on Calhoun, Wakanda and Foot lakes in Kandiyohi County.

There were three ice fishing houses bobbing in the waters of Lac qui Parle Lake this week. Strong winds earlier this week had blown two of the houses across expanses of clear ice and into open water. In the third case, a house warmed by the sun and mild temperatures suddenly plunged through.

In last weekend's incident on Lac qui Parle Lake, the driver was riding on eight inches of ice when he spotted a crack in the ice about 20 feet ahead and attempted to turn. He was suddenly on ice only 1 inch thick, crashed through and bumped his head hard. He was able to kick with his legs and get back onto ice and to safety, reported Picht.

Kandiyohi County anglers on ATVs have broken through ice on both Green and Norway lakes in addition to the most recent incident on Wakanda. The Green Lake incident occurred around 7 p.m. Wednesday. An ice fisherman on an ATV went into the water near the public access by Saulsbury Beach in Spicer. A lake resident heard the man's call for help and called 911. The driver was able to escape from the water on his own and walk to a nearby home for help.

An ATV and its driver slipped into Norway Lake at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, and its driver also was able to escape on his own. Fisherman Josh Fredeen of Willmar said he was also able to contact authorities shortly after his mishap and report that he was all right.

Minnesota Conservation Officer Jeff Denz, Willmar, said that Fredeen did exactly what anyone who escapes safely from a mishap on the ice should do. It's important to let the sheriff's office know that you are all right so that others aren't put at risk attempting to perform an unnecessary rescue.

Fredeen said the huge pressure ridge on the lake forced him to take a detour route from his fishing location back to the public access. In the dark, he left the path of other ATVs going around the ridge by about 10 feet and went down and into the water.

"It was a cold swim,'' said Fredeen, who managed to climb up the bank and to safety. By the time had had walked to shore, the insulated bibs he was wearing had frozen solid. His cell phone was in an inside pocket and working, and his vehicle keys were in another pocket. Fredeen said he called home first and then notified the sheriff's office so that no one would make a needless rescue attempt.

The local conservation officers urge everyone to be extremely cautious on the ice, and to contact authorities as soon as practical when an accident occurs. No one is ticketed for having the misfortune of having their fish house, ATV or vehicle fall through the ice. Owners are responsible for removing the property from the water, and a call to the sheriff's office can help in this regard too. They can refer you to professionals to assist.

The officers also urge all ice fishermen to carry safety ice picks. The inexpensive or easily-made devices can be life savers in helping grip the ice and getting out of the water. It is also advisable to wear a personal flotation device, particularly when on an ATV and there is the risk of injury.

Denz said it's really become a perfect storm. Record warm temperatures have made the ice as dangerous as anyone has seen for this time of year. Yet the warm temperatures also make it inviting to be out on the ice, and the fish bite has been phenomenal too.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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