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‘Never trust anyone’ on ice fishing conditions; guide says ice slow to build this winter

Riley McDowell ice fishing at Alcova Reservoir 1/19/2022 (Courtesy)

CASPER, Wyo. — The fishing has been good, but ice conditions have been “not the greatest” thus far this winter, a local guide told Oil City News.

“I’d say we’re a little more than a week behind where we were last year, definitely at Alcova,” said Riley McDowell, who runs guiding operations under his company Fat Bear Fishing.

McDowell said Alcova and Pathfinder Reservoirs have only begun to “cap over” in the last few weeks. He’s heard from peers that there’s fishable ice at Goldeneye Reservoir (about 30 miles northwest of Casper), Yesness Pond, and Glendo Reservoir.

At Pathfinder, the best areas are Bishop’s Point, the Marina, and Sweetwater Arm. At Alcova, McDowell recommends Black Beach, though most of the coves are likely viable

Anecdotal reports of ice conditions can help anglers decide whether to make a particular trip or not, but they shouldn’t be relied on once they step off the shore, McDowell said.

Riley McDowell ice fishing at Alcova Reservoir 1/19/2022 (Courtesy)

“Never trust anybody. … If you see a guy out there fishing, don’t trust that he checked the ice.” McDowell said. “You can never be too cautious; always go out with a partner. Carry your ice pick and spud bar.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department said that anglers should check ice thickness every 100-150 feet while moving about. Four inches of clear ice is usually safe for activities on foot, and much more is needed for large gatherings or vehicles.

McDowell added that conditions change year to year, and consistency can vary over any given stretch of ice.

“What I saw at Alcova [Sunday] was 3-4 inches [of ice thickness] on the shoreline, and 10 feet out from there was 6 inches. There’s nothing you can guarantee.”

McDowell added that that the week of relatively mild conditions was bound to change ice conditions.

“This week we’re supposed to be up in the 40s and that can tear the ice up super fast. So I might have been on 5 inches of ice yesterday, and today, it might not be safe.”

Warm temperatures coupled with wind “will just eat that ice away,” McDowell said, adding that wind will blow away the  the cold air that lingers over ice.

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