Survival Natural Disaster Survival

200 Minnesota Ice Fishermen Rescued from Half-Frozen Lake

A large chunk of ice broke free on Upper Red Lake, stranding hundreds of ice fisherman
Katie Hill Avatar
200 ice fishermen rescued from Minnesota ice chunk
The rescue took over two and a half hours. Beltrami County Sheriff's Office / Facebook

An early weekend of ice fishing on Minnesota’s famed Upper Red Lake came to a scary halt on Monday, Nov. 28 when a large chunk of ice broke off and stranded an estimated 200 ice fishermen and women. The anglers have since been rescued, thanks to emergency responders, nearby resorts, and one small ice bridge.

According to a press release, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department started receiving calls at approximately 11:34 a.m. from distressed anglers who realized the ice chunk was drifting away from shore on the southeastern part of the lake. By the time emergency responders arrived to the scene, an estimated 30 yards of water stood between the ice chunk and dry land on one side.

Rescue teams used drones to assess the situation. Beltrami County Emergency Management also used an emergency alert system that sent a message to every cell phone on the ice chunk, warning unknowing anglers of the situation and giving latitude and longitude coordinates for the evacuation point. Nearby ice fishing resort JR’s Corner Access provided an ice bridge long enough to span the narrowest part of the crack and every angler evacuated the ice chunk by 2:37 p.m. According to Kelliher Fire and Rescue chief Rick Thayer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers airboated about a dozen anglers on the easternmost part of the sheet to safety, but every other angler used the bridge.

“Any time during early ice season, changes in weather conditions can change fishing conditions very quickly, and it’s happened quite frequently the last few years with that body of water,” Thayer tells Outdoor Life. “Typically when the wind switches to the south like it did yesterday, it tends to push the ice away from itself because there are still open spots of water out in the middle of the lake.”

JR’s Corner Access tries to stay on top of conditions and prepare for situations just like this one.

“Part of our job is monitoring and looking at cracks and watching the [ice] and making sure we have bridges ready when needed,” Adam Studniski of JR’s Corner Access told BBC.

ice fisherman rescue
Ice fisherman were stranded by a 30-yard gap of open water. Beltrami Country Sheriff’s Office / Facebook

In the aftermath of the rescue, there’s been plenty of online criticism.

“Send a bill to the resort that let them on the lake and to each individual person on the ice. Maybe….just maybe they will actually think in the future,” one Facebook comment reads. “They put a lot of people in danger today and cost a lot of money to rescue them.”

Thayer commends the resorts for staying on top of ice conditions to the best of their abilities.

“The resorts do a very decent job of keeping up to date with what ice conditions are, but any time you step onto a frozen body of water, those conditions can change. Where it looks like there’s two inches of ice there could be eight inches of ice, and then 100 more yards you’re on a spot that’s just skimmed over but it looks like good ice.”

JR’s Corner Access will remain closed through the end of Tuesday, Nov. 29. In the meantime, the rescued anglers remain thankful for their safety. It will be an especially memorable day for Andy LaBarge and Lydia Thole, a couple who got engaged while out on the ice, according to Northern News Now.

“Andy had tied my ring on a lure and put it on my bobber line and I came back in and he’s like ‘Oh you got a fish,'” Thole recounted. “So I reel it up and he’s on a knee, and I said ‘Oh my god!'”

The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office reminds the public to stay safe and alert to ice conditions.

“[We remind] those who are thinking of heading on the ice that early season ice is very unpredictable,” the press release says. “Extreme caution should be used when heading on the ice and to check the thickness frequently to ensure an adequate amount of ice.”

In addition to the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office and Kelliher Fire and Rescue, other responding groups included Red Lake Nation Fire, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota State Patrol, Blackduck Ambulance, and the Lake of the Woods Sheriff’s Office.