What started as a small crack in the ice of Upper Red Lake grew to an expanse of nearly 100 feet on Monday morning, stranding about 200 anglers on an icy sheet with nothing but frigid water between them and the shore.
Officials responded shortly after 11:30 a.m. with airboats, drones, all-terrain vehicles and water-rescue boats. But in the end a simple, temporary bridge brought most of the stranded back to safety.
"Breakers and cracks are just part of our every day," said Adam Studniski, owner of JR's Corner Access resort, which brought out the bridge where the gap between ice bodies wasn't as wide. "This one just got a little wider but it was a super chill, calm situation. There was no panic. Nobody got hurt."
In fact, Studniski said, many anglers had something else on their minds. "Everyone just wanted to stay fishing."
Several water rescue agencies were called to the scene to help. Beltrami County's emergency management system also issued a wireless emergency alert, which allowed notifications to be sent to cellphones of people in the area. All the anglers were evacuated by 2:40 p.m., according to the Sheriff's Office.
It's not the first time anglers have been stranded on ice that's broken away from the shore on Upper or Lower Red lakes. In recent years, a father and son were rescued after becoming trapped on drifting ice in December 2021, and at least 11 people were stranded on sheets of ice in November 2019.
"Early season ice is very unpredictable," Jarrett Walton, Beltrami County chief deputy, said in a news release. "Extreme caution should be used when heading on the ice and to check the thickness frequently to ensure an adequate amount of ice."
Area business owners had been monitoring a crack in the ice since Thursday, said Shane Youngbauer, owner of North Woods Fish Houses, which outfits anglers visiting the lake known for its walleye.
"We had a pretty big crack open up east to west," he said. "This blew open with the south wind today."
At about noon, Youngbauer shared a video on Facebook showing what he estimated to be about 60 feet of open water between the floating sheet of ice and the ice near the shore.
"Now it's probably 100 feet wide. And it's still moving," he said just before 3 p.m. Monday.
The lake is one of the first in the state to open for ice fishing each year, Youngbauer said, making it a popular site at the end of November and early December.
"It's such a shallow lake that it freezes right away," he said.
Resorts on the south side of the lake will likely be closed for a few days until the ice refreezes. Studniski, who has helped run JR's resort since his father opened the business two decades ago, said safety is his top priority but he's eager for folks to get out on the ice again.
"Fish don't bite anywhere else like to they do on Red Lake," he said.