Be Prepared: Watch Out for River Ice

river ice

The Boy Scout motto "Be prepared" holds infinite wisdom when fishing any Wisconsin river in March. Or in any state where river ice comes into play.

Boats are designed to move through water in its liquid state. Ice provides a unique set of solid challenges that must be anticipated and conquered to enjoy a safe and productive day of walleye fishing when few — if any — other boaters are around to help you deal with unintended circumstances. 

Before heading out, check river levels for any projected changes and weather conditions for a period extending at least 12 hours after you plan on being off the water. 

Intimate knowledge of the river you are fishing is paramount. Check the river upstream from where you plan on fishing to the first barrier, like a dam, and the ice conditions upstream before you consider launching a boat. 

Removing any appliances that extend below the keel (such as transducers) is a good idea. If you forget, river ice probably will remove it for you. 

There is little difference between hitting rocks and hitting ice with your outboard. Ice chunks are small floating icebergs with 90 percent of their mass beneath the surface and unseen. Take it easy when navigating. No need to race upstream to the fishin' hole. 

Traveling downstream from the boat ramp to fish is never a good idea unless you have confirmed an accessible ramp in that direction. 

Pack a shovel, ice spud, bag of salt/sand, tow chain, come-along, spare propeller, well-stocked tool box, boat hook, 5-gallon bucket, extra anchor and plenty of rope. The ramp you clear may be dry when you launch, but pulling the trailer out when the ambient temperature is below 32 degrees creates an instant glaze of ice. 

Dress in layers and bring extra clothes, especially extra gloves. Always wearing a PFD goes unsaid. Tell somebody about your fishing plans and have their contact info on speed dial. 

Fishing gear needs are limited: two spinning rods, some jigs, rigs and blade baits. Don't forget a camera. There is at least one great photo op in every March walleye trip.

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