The Fairweather Fishing Access Site (FAS) along the Missouri River was closed last week due to ice jams and flooding.
According to the FWP, the combination of unsafe conditions includes flooded areas throughout the site, moving ice and debris, and potentially unstable trees. The site is located eight miles downstream of Missouri Headwaters State Park.
FWP District 3 Regional Maintenance Manager Martin Holtmeyer told the Voice that in the Three Forks area, they do not have these kinds of issues very often, but the sites they typically have to watch are York's Island FAS and Fairweather FAS on the Missouri River.
On the Madison River, Holtmeyer said they close the Ennis FAS and Valley Garden FAS every season and often do partial closures at 8 Mile Ford FAS and Burnt Tree FAS when ice backs up onto the ramps and into the lower reaches of the sites.
Holtmeyer said the closures are triggered by cold events such as the one the area is experiencing now.
"Once a site has a closure, it remains closed until the ice recedes. For the sites on the Madison, this can last into May, depending on how long temperatures stay cold. These sites get up to 5-6 feet of ice, so it takes some time to melt. On the Missouri, if we get a spell of warmer weather, it can be enough to break up the ice jam causing the issue and letting the river return to its banks. It is all weather dependent," he said.
From Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
It took a while to get here, but winter finally hit Montana. That means winter enthusiasts will be heading out to recreate. Whether ice fishing, ice skating, hunting, snowmobiling or just taking a walk, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks staff reminds recreationists that safety should be the number one concern during a day out on (or near) the ice.
Here are some safety tips:
• Anglers and other recreationists should be familiar with the water body they plan to fish or recreate on. Pay close attention to the changing conditions of the ice.
• If you have even the slightest doubt about the safety of the ice - stay off of it. Nothing is ever worth a fall into frigid water.
• Blue or "clear" ice is usually hard. Watch out for opaque, gray, dark or porous spots in the ice that could be weak, soft areas. Ice also tends to thin more quickly at the shorelines or near structures protruding though the ice such as rocks, stumps and trees.
• Note areas on the ice that look "different" - they usually are. Many times, thinner areas of ice (caused by springs, gas pockets, sunken islands, points, etc.) have a different color or look to them. Use extreme caution or stay away from these areas.
• The following are recommended minimum ice thickness guidelines (for good, clear ice*):
* Under 4 inches: STAY OFF
* 4 inches: individual angler ice fishing or other activities on foot
* 7 inches: snowmobile or ATV
* 10 inches: small car**
* 12 inches: truck or SUV**
*for white ice or "snow ice," double the above minimums
**not recommended, but if you must, proceed at your own risk
• Watch for pressure ridges. These are areas of weak or unstable ice where the ice has cracked and heaved due to expansion from freezing.
• Test the ice ahead of you with an ice spud bar or an auger.
• Don't leave children unsupervised on the ice.
• Waterbodies do not freeze at the same thickness everywhere. For example, some ponds have windmills to aerate water for fish survival, and ice may be thin near these areas.
• Moving water - rivers, streams and springs - weaken ice by wearing it away from underneath. Avoid going on ice on rivers and streams, or where a river or stream enters a lake, pond or reservoir.
• The least safe ice usually occurs early and late in the season, when the weather is warmer and less predictable.
• Remember, NO ICE is 100 percent safe.
• Snowmobiling and ATV use on the ice will reduce steering ability.
* Groups should avoid crossing ice in a single-file group. If the first person breaks through, the rest of the group may not be able to stop or maneuver in time to avoid it.
• Some other common ice-safety reminders to keep in mind include:
* Consider changes in the weather (and ice conditions) during the prior 24 hours. Wind, rain and sun can drastically decay ice in a short time.
* It's a good idea to wear a life jacket (PFD) or carry a throwable floatation device or rope while out on the ice - safe ice anglers and recreationists do it all the time.
* Dress warm but practical. Many styles of ice fishing jackets and bibs provide extra buoyancy to help keep you afloat if you do fall through.
o Before you leave the house, tell someone where you plan to go and when you plan to return.
o Carry a pair of ice picks (long spikes on a heavy string around your neck). If you break through the ice, you can use the spikes to grip the ice and pull yourself out of the water.