Due to the recent warm temperatures, ice conditions on many of Montana's lakes and reservoirs are deteriorating.
"Anglers, snowmobilers and other recreators should use extreme caution whenever venturing onto the ice," said Liz Lodman, coordinator of the Fish, Wildlife & Parks' water safety program.
Sunny days and warm winds are not the only conditions affecting ice thickness and strength, Lodman said. Springs and rising or moving water erode ice on its underside. This erosion often is not visible and is usually uneven -- some areas are weakened while other are not. Ice covered by a layer of slush or dark-colored spots indicates thin ice that should be avoided.
"But don't trust your eyes when to comes to determining whether ice is safe," warned Lodman. "Use an auger or spud bar to test the thickness and condition of ice. Recreationists should avoid ice less than four inches thick."
Since ice usually melts faster along shorelines, fishermen should leave their vehicles on the shore, Lodman said. Also, ice that may look safe in the morning can quickly melt by afternoon, leaving a vehicle stranded. At this time of year, anglers also should consider removing ice houses, Lodman said.