Can there be a suburban ice fishing season now?

  • Banana Lake in the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda opened to ice fishing on Tuesday. Mild conditions the past few weeks have thwarted ice fishermen who have not had much opportunity to get out locally this season, unlike on Lake Zurich in 2017.

      Banana Lake in the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda opened to ice fishing on Tuesday. Mild conditions the past few weeks have thwarted ice fishermen who have not had much opportunity to get out locally this season, unlike on Lake Zurich in 2017. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • An ice fisherman checks his line while fishing on Lake Zurich when temperatures dipped into the single digits in 2017. There's been no such luck for ice anglers for most of this winter, as mild weather has kept local waterways from a deep freeze.

      An ice fisherman checks his line while fishing on Lake Zurich when temperatures dipped into the single digits in 2017. There's been no such luck for ice anglers for most of this winter, as mild weather has kept local waterways from a deep freeze. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2017

  • A state agency's graphic shows how much ice is needed to support various objects.

    A state agency's graphic shows how much ice is needed to support various objects. Courtesy Illinois Department of Natural Resources

  • An ice fisherman checks his line on Butler Lake in Libertyville.

      An ice fisherman checks his line on Butler Lake in Libertyville. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2017

  • Ice fishermen brave the cold during a 2015 derby on Bangs Lake in Wauconda.

      Ice fishermen brave the cold during a 2015 derby on Bangs Lake in Wauconda. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2015

 
 
Updated 1/23/2019 6:37 AM

The familiar sight of ice fishermen silhouetted on lakes in northern Illinois has been missing this season as mild winter weather kept augers in the garage or sent anglers seeking solid ice elsewhere.

But with this week's cold snap, the situation is expected to turn around. Finally, the ice fishing season is getting underway.

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"The outlook is much, much better," said Greg Dickson, owner of Triangle Sports and Marine Inc., in Antioch. "People have been waiting to go all year long."

By this weekend, enthusiasts who have been relegated to shallow isolated backwaters or headed north to Wisconsin or Minnesota to get their ice-fishing fix are expected to be back at their favorite local spots in force.

A brutally cold forecast for Friday and Saturday may be a temporary deterrent, but temperatures are expected to moderate thereafter.

"I would expect we'll be extremely busy on Sunday," said Dickson, whose family opened Triangle in 1948. "This is kind of the kickoff (of the ice fishing season) for sure."

It's been a while. Despite a brief spurt after Illinois' eighth-coldest November on record, conditions until recently have not cooperated.

"People are itchin'. Not just me," Ryan Jacobsen, co-founder of the LVVA Ice Fishing Derby in Wauconda said last week. At the time, he said he'd seen "a few crazy guys" fishing but hadn't been able to get out on Bangs Lake.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Finally," he said Monday, after returning from a weekend trip to Minnesota to ice fish. "I'm sure there will be a couple of portable shanties out there."

Until now, Jacobsen and others have had to adjust.

The LVVA derby drew 537 participants last year but was switched from the originally scheduled Jan. 26 to Feb. 9 in hopes the ice thickens by then.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County was in the same boat, so to speak, and delayed its Hard Water Classic at Silver Lake in Warrenville from Jan. 12 to Feb. 9.

The average ice depth at Silver Lake as of last Thursday was about 2 inches, according to Jay Johnson, manager of site operations for the district. Fingers are crossed for the makeup date.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources recommends ice be at least 4 inches thick for safe fishing or skating.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District offers ice fishing at Lakewood (near Wauconda), Independence Grove (near Libertyville) and Van Patten Woods (near Wadsworth) forest preserves and requires 4 inches of uniform thickness.

Banana Lake opened to ice fishing Tuesday morning, but until then none of three locations had been available this winter, according to John Nelson, director of operations and infrastructure.

Bait shop owners say customers have been going to the Madison or Wisconsin Dells areas or other points north.

"There's been no (ice fishing) season," John Moy, owner of Lee's Bait & Tackle with stores in Elk Grove Village and Carol Stream, observed last week. He held back inventory because of an anticipated delay.

On Tuesday, Moy said anglers were starting to get out locally, but many still were heading north for safe ice.

"Probably by this weekend, it will be a lot better," he said, as he prepared for the Chicagoland Fishing Travel & Outdoor Expo Thursday through Sunday at the Schaumburg Convention Center.

The first solid ice historically forms around Dec. 6, but that is not a consistent occurrence, said Frank Jakubicek, fisheries biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources covering the Chain O' Lakes/Fox River area.

"The Fox River and Chain O' Lakes system has a lot of flow, so you have to be careful," he said. "Ice fishing is tricky in our part of the state."

"It's strictly an 'ice fish at your own risk' situation, and that's pretty true anywhere you go" in northern Illinois, he said.

Jakubicek and others stressed caution.

"There are still thick ice and thin ice areas interspersed near each other because there are mini-currents that keep ice from freezing consistently across a lake," he said.

Sections of Bangs Lake, for example, freeze differently based on depth, current and warm spots, making it difficult to gauge what's safe, said Mike DaValle, division chief of fire prevention for the Wauconda Fire District.

"We suggest those who wish to ice fish use caution, especially this year, to check the depth of the ice in several spots along their way to the place they would like to set up and fish," he said.

Forecasters are giving anglers hope for coming weeks.

Brian Kerschner, Illinois state climatologist, said forecasts released Monday by the Climate Prediction Center continue to strongly favor below-normal temperatures at both the 6- to 10-day and 8- to 14-day time frames.

"In fact, the highest probabilities are centered over northern Illinois and the Great Lakes region," he said. "This should continue to be beneficial for ice growth."

Dickson and others say every season varies.

"What's a typical year?" he said. "It's one of those things -- timing is of the essence."

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