The Science Behind Ice Fishing

If you’ve experienced a midwestern winter, you might think you know all there is to about ice. In fact, if you’re one of Lake Carroll’s community of ice fishers, you might even qualify as an expert on the stuff. Ice fishing is one of our community’s favorite winter activities, and it is the amazing scientific properties of frozen water that make it all possible. So, whether you can’t wait to get out on the lake for some winter relaxation and sport, or you are content to watch from the sidelines, there’s still a lot to learn about ice!

The Importance of Floating

Ice floats as it forms, which is why the top surface of lakes freeze, rather than lakes and bodies of water freezing from the bottom up into solid blocks of ice. This whole principle is why we can ice fish, drilling through a frozen top layer to reach the liquid water below. Ice is water in a solid state, so it is amazing that it is less dense than the liquid state of water. Part of how this happens relies on the incredibly versatile shape of water molecules.

Water molecules are comprised of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. Together, they form a small three-dimensional pyramid-like shape. When arranged into a solid state, these tiny shapes form rigid bonds that cause them to take up more space. The reality of floating ice is important for all life underwater as water freezing from above allows them to live in the denser, liquid water below.

Cooling Less, Insulating More

In school, we are often taught that systems will seek a temperature equilibrium, but this isn’t always the case in nature. For instance, you may be surprised to learn that the water below ice isn’t near freezing temperature – it is usually around 40°F compared to the 32°F temperature of ice. In general, frozen water doesn’t cool its surroundings below 40°F – you can even test this without going out on the lake, by simply measuring the temperature in a beverage with ice cubes.

When the weather outside drops low, ice layers actually insulate the cold water below them, making it possible for fish to survive the harsh conditions of the season. If water didn’t have a limited cooling effect, bodies of water would quickly freeze solid and the sport of ice fishing would turn into the art of finding and chipping frozen fish out of an icy block.

Frozen Water, 15 Ways

Humans have identified about fifteen different configurations that water molecules can take when forming ice, which makes it an interesting molecular puzzle. With so many ways for ice to form, different types of ice may show different properties such as consistency, color and brittleness.

Saltiness makes ice more reluctant to form because salt crystals interfere with the formation of ice crystals. When saltwater does freeze however, it pushes much of the salt out of the ice formation. This means that even oceanic or salt-lake ice will offer relatively pure water that humans can consume.

Ice Fishing Safety

The thickness of ice is critical for ice fishing safety. Fresh ice needs to be at least 4 inches thick to support a human, 5 inches to support an average sized snowmobile and at least 10 inches thick to support a large vehicle. Concentrating too much weight in a single spot can cause the ice to fracture and you risk falling through into cold water.

When ice fishing with friends, spread out. Holes and lines should be far apart from one another. This not only preserves the integrity of the ice, but also keeps your lines from getting tangled. Holes in the ice should be kept small, just 6”-8” in diameter so they don’t present a major falling risk to others.

Heaven forbid, if you do fall through the ice, keep your wits. Wear a small set of ice spikes around your neck – you can use these to get a grip in the ice surface and pull yourself out of water should you need to. If you are on weak ice, your flattened body distributes your weight more gently than your standing posture, so keeping flat and sliding to firmer ground is a way to get to safety.

Ice Fishing at Lake Carroll

Ice fishing at Lake Carroll is a great activity if you are part of the Lake Carroll community! Don’t forget to end the day with a smile at the Clubhouse Restaurant or lounging next to the Lodge’s oversized fireplace. To learn more about real estate options at Lake Carroll, contact us at Fawn Ridge Realty today.