BUFFALO, Minn. (WCCO) — With our warm February come ice warnings across the state.

Sheriff’s departments in Sherburne and Wright counties are just a few law enforcement agencies asking drivers to stay off lakes. In Cass County, the sheriff announced that only all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles will be allowed on Leech Lake for next week’s Eelpout festival in Walker.

The ice may be still thick in some spots, but just a few feet over it can be thin and dangerous. On Lake Pulaski in Buffalo, some ice fishermen learned that the hard way.

“They had it fully loaded, fully geared to do some intense ice fishing,” said Phil Kerber.

That was Friday night. But the would-be anglers who drove onto Lake Pulaski never got a chance to fish. Their SUV and all their gear spent the weekend on the bottom of the lake. Luckily, they got out safely.

“They hit the ice ridge where it’s weak,” said Kerber.

Kerber, an ice diver who has seen this scenario too many times before, said a vehicle recovery takes time and money.

It took about an hour to pull the SUV out. Kerber said it can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $6,000 to pull a vehicle out of a lake if insurance doesn’t cover it.

“As it went through it started to tip down and it ended upside down. The front of the vehicle is the heaviest. We had to upright it under water and winch if up on the flatbed to get it out of the water,” said Kerber.

Cases like this one are why sheriff’s departments are getting proactive. A February warmup gives them no choice but to call off popular ice fishing events.

Craig Johnson is the organizer for the Little Hole on Big Lake fishing tournament. An event that has drawn a thousand anglers to the city of Big Lake in the past. For only the second time in 14 years, it’s being postponed….until next year.

“Disappointed but not surprised. We’ve had a lot of warm weather in February. It’s Mother Nature. You can’t win,” said Johnson.

Johnson said that tournament will go on in another way. Some events taking place on the shoreline this weekend that includes free food, prizes and a raffle.

A message from law enforcement and the DNR, is that really no ice is completely safe ice.

John Lauritsen