March 20, 2018: Equinox

It’s been a week since I posted photographs, so it’s time for another look. We came in from the north, so let’s start with the Winnipeg River.

This is the Big Stretch, and it’s almost all frozen. There’s a little patch of water under the railway bridge at Minaki (off the right edge of this picture) and another little bit at the south end of the stretch, and that’s about it. Still plenty of snow cover, too.

We’ll come back to take a look at the headwaters when we get closer to town. First, let’s update Safety Bay and Keewatin Channel.

This photo is centred on Keewatin, looking south, and the expanse of ice in the foreground is Darlington Bay. Ice is softening on Safety Bay, and a narrow channel is opening up from near the Keewatin Bridge to near Cross Island, but Yacht Club Island is still ice-bound.

You can click on any of these pictures to see the full-resolution, zoomable version.

This is also the best of today’s shots to see further out onto the lake at how much ice there is, and how uniformly white the snow-cover is.

Okay, I said we’d revisit the Winnipeg River headwaters when we got closer.

We’ve turned east toward the airport, so this is the view down Palmerston Channel, with Dufresne Island at the left, and the bypass above the propeller spinner. Norman is at the right edge. Just above the nose of the aircraft is the east end of Darlington Bay, where there’s open water around Tunnel Island.

Let’s finish with a look at downtown Kenora.

Norman is at the lower right, with Coney Island stretching to the right edge of the picture. Zoom in to look at Devil’s Gap in the middle distance. Not a lot of open water out that way. Things look a little more spring-like in Norman Bay, Kenora Bay and the area around the Coney Island pedestrian bridge.

So, how are we doing? A quick look at my archives shows that we’re not doing as well as last year. Feel free to use the archive tool on the right sidebar to hunt down posts from past years. On March 20th of 2017, you could drive a boat to the Yacht Club. 2016 was a typical year: March then was not as good as 2017, but better than right now.

Cam went ice fishing again this last weekend, and he reports that he still had to drill through three feet of clear, strong ice. I’ve also heard at least one claim that there isn’t much current running, which is another negative factor.

To see real change, we need to strip off that snow cover that protects the ice. My first choice would be a good rainfall, and my second would be a few days of warm south winds. Sadly, the forecast is for flurries tonight, which will not help. In the longer run, there’s talk of a few cold days, then a milder spell, but then below normal temperatures as we wrap up March and head into April.

Spring is coming, Lake Dwellers, but it’s not coming very fast.



March 17, 2018: Ice Thickness

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Since my last post, I’ve been talking to a couple of the guys at work that go ice fishing, and they tell me the ice has been both thick and solid in recent days. A typical ice auger is sold with a three-foot bit. Dave tells me he’s seen some people using extensions to get through, so we can say the ice thickness is three feet or more.

Cam agreed with that, and had another comment that was informative. After he drills through the ice, he drills another shallow hole to use as a rod-holder, and he tells me those little holes usually fill slowly with water that filters through the tiny cracks and fissures in the ice. But this year, that hasn’t been happening, meaning that the ice is exceptionally solid and strong.

Both Cam and Dave said confidently that this will be a late spring. I’m inclined to agree, but I knew I should look at some of my archive pictures for perspective before I said so.

You can do this too. Look for the ARCHIVE OF PREVIOUS MONTHS AND YEARS tool in the sidebar of this web page*, then from the drop-down menu, choose March of 2017, 2016, or 2015. That will take you to the last post from that month, so usually March 30th or 31st of that year. Scroll down to find a post from March 13th or 14th to compare to this year’s first batch of photographs.

Note: I took no pictures in 2014 until April.  That was a bad year. [shivers]

If you’re not up for that kind of research, here are some direct links to those posts:

March 14, 2015: It Begins

March 14, 2016: The River

March 14, 2017: Hard March

March 13, 2018: Lets Take a Look (most recent previous post)

To me, it looks as if the amount of open water this March is comparable to recent years, but there’s one significant difference: snow cover.

You can see from the photographs in my previous post that the lake is still covered in a good layer of pure white snow. In January, snow cover slows down ice formation by insulating the surface of the ice from frigid air temperatures.

In March, the situation is reversed: the snow is protecting the ice from sunshine and warm air that would melt it. Recent daytime temperatures above freezing (my personal definition of spring) have turned that blanket of powdery, air-filled snow to a more crunchy, crystalline layer that doesn’t insulate as well, but it’s still a big factor because it’s white and reflective, keeping the sunshine from the darker ice below.

This year’s snow cover is heavier than recent years. We need to lose that snow before we’ll see the ice melting steadily.

So, how did those previous years turn out? Here’s the graph. Each year gets a brick. The bricks get stacked in piles representing five-day calendar periods.

2017 went in late April, a little earlier than average. 2016 and 2015 went in the first days of May, which is most common. 2014 was a brute, not letting go until late May.

In summary, ice fishers who get up close and personal with the lake ice report an ample thickness of strong, clear ice, and believe it will take longer than usual to melt. From the air, things look about normal for this time of year, with perhaps more snow cover to slow things down.

I think it will depend on the weather. (No duh! Good thing your’re not paying me big bucks for this.) The current fourteen day forecast is for late March to have mostly below normal and below freezing temperatures, so umm…. cross your fingers.


*the layout is different on the mobile version – try scrolling way down


March 13, 2018: Let’s Take A Look

I had a training flight Tuesday that let me roam out over Lake of the Woods to get the lay of the ice.

Here’s the short version for those of you checking in from far away: the lake is 99% frozen. I’m not quite ready to start the six-week countdown yet.

Here’s a photograph that shows the overall condition of the lake. It also clearly shows why these are called the Barrier Islands. The plane is over the Manitou, heading south west, and the ice road cuts between Shammis Island on the left and Crow Rock Island on the right.

Remember, you can click on these pictures to see the full-resolution version, and the larger picture is also zoomable. Also, when you float the mouse over the pictures, you should see the pilot and photographer attribution.

While I was taking the picture above, I noticed some patches of open water down by Big Narrows, so Tom and I headed down to take a look.

This shot, with Big Narrows Island at the left and the Western Peninsula on the right, gives a clear example of how the ice goes first where the current is strongest.

Time to turn north east and head back towards Kenora.

We’re still near Big Narrows. This is the ice road that runs between Kennedy Island on the left and Skeet Island on the right. Kenora is way off near the horizon, left of center. Did  I mention there’s lots of ice?

Let’s go look for some water. That’s basically how Ice Patrol works, by the way. I observe the progress of the thaw by seeking out the expanding patches of open water.

Keewatin Channel always opens up early. This picture looks north with Keewatin in the background.  There’s a fair bit of water around Channel Island. Over the wingtip is Roger’s Island, and beyond that, Treaty Island. In the distance (don’t forget you can zoom in) you can see Coney Island and an open stretch of Safety Bay.

We’ll take a closer look at that.

Looking east down Rat Portage Bay gives a different angle, with Keewatin Channel now at the right, and Safety Bay on the left. Norman is on the left shore, and downtown Kenora is in the distance, left of center.

Of course, one more place where there’s guaranteed to be a current is the Winnipeg River.

This picture looks north at The Dalles, with Minaki and Big Sand Lake almost at the horizon.

I usually kick off the Ice Patrol when there’s a bit more open water in Safety Bay, so this flight was more about having the opportunity than really getting started in earnest. It’s certainly too early to make predictions, but I’ve noticed an increase in the number of Ice Patrol visitors lately, so I know some of you are getting anxious.

We had a strange winter, with multiple extreme cold warnings in late December, January and February. (For this region, warnings are issued when the wind-chill values work out to around -40°) I would have expected really thick ice, but we started the winter with some heavy snowfalls in early December that may have insulated the lake against the deepest cold. When the ice is really thick, my ice-fishing friends notice because their augers bottom out, but I haven’t been hearing that this year.

So far, March is much milder, so maybe we won’t have a late thaw. This is not a prediction. It’s a HOPE.

A couple of other notes. First, thanks to those of you who stopped by the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada to hear me talk about Alternative Aviation. It was fun to meet some of my blog followers.

Second, the company I work for has changed ownership. Formerly, we were known as Walsten Air, and were part of Discovery Air. Now we are part of MAG Aerospace, and we answer the phone as MAG Canada. We have new decals on the plane, but we’re the same great outfit.

I’ll have a number of training flights in the next while, but keep in mind that the initial stages of the spring thaw move slowly, so there’s no urgency to update every day or two just yet. Stay tuned, and if you’d like an email when Ice Patrol has new info, you can click the FOLLOW button. I do not share email addresses with anyone.

That’s it for now, except to say to all of you, welcome back!



I’ll be making a public appearance in Winnipeg later this month, wearing my author hat.

CAHS Jan 25 2018 poster

As you can see from the last lines on the poster, the presentation is open to the public, and free. If you’re curious about the stranger side of aviation, this might be for you. I’ll be running a slideshow and talk that goes through the alphabet of strange flying machines from Autogyros to Zeppelins. Hint: the really weird stuff is in between.

9781988274270-199x300Some of this ties into my science fiction writing. My short story, “The Emperor’s Dragon” looks at how the Chinese could have achieved powered flight a thousand years before the Wright brothers, and my novel, Avians, is about aviation on a world without metal or fossil fuels. I’ll have copies of the book with me, if you’re interested.

Happy New Year, and maybe I’ll see you there!


April 27, 2017: Wrapping Up

If a lake thaws, and no-one gets to enjoy it, did it still melt? I flew every day this week, and I didn’t lay eyes on the lake once. We’ve had nothing but wind and snow and cold. I have no trips scheduled on the weekend, so I might as well try to put Ice Patrol to bed.

For my records, I’ll be saying that this year, Lake of the Woods was ice free on Monday, April 24th.

Not a very satisfying way to close off the Ice Patrol, I admit. You may be wondering if all these below-freezing temperatures mean we could be making new ice. Short answer: no. It’s been too windy for anything but the shallowest parts of the most sheltered bays to re-freeze. Slightly longer answer: watch out for ice formed from spray on your shoreline, dock and boat. You do not want to fall in the lake yet.

It could be worse, by the  way: you could live in Thunder Bay. They’ve had two days of horrendous freezing rain, and practically every flight in or out was cancelled during that time.

Let’s look at how it went this year. I describe the thawing of Lake of the Woods as a six week process, but I admit his is a rather rubbery statistic. While it’s usually easy to say when the thaw is complete, it’s more subjective to squint at the icy lake one day and whisper, “it begins.” This year, I started on March 14th, because that’s roughly typical. So if you’ll spot me that call, this year was just one day shy of the six week mark.

April the 24th is actually on the early side. Here’s my graph that breaks the spring down into 5-day periods. The brick for each year is stacked in the time-slot when the full thaw was complete:

So that’s it for now. If I ever get to fly in the sunshine again, I’ll try to photograph some sparkling water. Perhaps one of my other contributors will be able to fly this weekend and get some pretty pictures. It’s been wonderful to have help from so many other pilots this year, by the way: some are complete strangers, some are casual acquaintances, and of course, all of my friends at Walsten Air pitched in to help.

In the meantime, I’ll post my usual spring reminder about floatplanes. When seaplanes are landing or taking off they have the right of way over boats. When they’re taxiing, they have the same right of way as other boats, but they have no reverse, no brakes, and limited steering, so I ask you give them a wide berth. Please keep in mind that the portion of Safety Bay from Bush Island along the north side of Coney Island is a designated water aerodrome. In other words, an airport for floatplanes. Be vigilant there, and if you do see a plane coming, try to give the pilot room without making sudden, last-second moves.

Last, I’m going to unashamedly plug my book. Five Rivers Publishing is releasing Avians this summer. It’s science fiction for young adult readers. The Converts have tech, the Naturals don’t. Raisa is the girl caught in the middle.

AVIANS First Edition Cover

If you’d like some summer reading, Avians will be released on August 1st, and it’s available for pre-order now in either e-book or trade paperback format. You can find out more about it by visiting any of these links:

Five Rivers Publishing. Amazon. Kobo. Barnes & Noble.  I’m also planning an appearance at Elizabeth Campbell Books this summer. If you’d like a signed copy, keep an eye on Timothy Gwyn Writes for further details on that as we work things out. Oh, and I’ll be in Winnipeg for Keycon in May. I’ll be doing panels and presentations and a reading there, and giving away one or two signed advance copies.

And now, back to the lake. The Coney Island bridge is being taken out as I write this. And of course, now that I’m finished flying for the day,  the sun is coming out.

Have a safe and sunny summer.

April 24, 2017: Gone, Probably.

It’s always tricky to arrange a flight on the day the ice is most likely to be gone. I went flying today, but a wall of snow moving up from Minnesota blocked my view of the lake as we took off.

To the north, the skies were much clearer, so I snapped this picture of Silver Lake as we went by.

Silver Lake

This photo looks north. Skies were overcast, and the flat light makes it hard to tell if you are looking at ice or water. If you click on the picture to see the full-size version, you may find it easier to be sure. On Silver, it’s mostly ice. It’s a deep lake, and always freezes late and thaws late. The smaller lakes are open.

As to Lake of the Woods, my guess is it’s open. Ashley reported yesterday that she found only one small pan of ice, and with the wind we had, it should certainly be gone today.

Shoal Lake might still have some ice, but we won’t find out for sure until the weather lifts.

In any case, I doubt anyone had much enthusiasm for boating today. The temperature was below freezing, and heavy wet snow closed the trans-Canada highway all the way from Vermillion Bay to the Manitoba border.

Deck Furniture

This is how things looked at my house this afternoon. Ah, spring. Even when a run of warm weather brings us an early thaw, things have a way of averaging out.


April 23, 2017: Joe Wedge

Joe Wedge took these pictures Friday evening, and forwarded them to my Twitter account (@timothygwyn) today.

This first one is Ptarmigan Bay. Joe says it’s completely ice-free there.

Ptarmigan Bay

Joe tells me this is Ady Island. The photo looks north, so that must be Copper Island in the background.

The second shot is of Shoal Lake, looking south towards Spike Point.

Shoal Lake.

That places the photo at the east end of Shoal Lake, by Carl Bay. Keep in mind that these pictures were taken two days ago.

I don’t have a picture from her, but Ashley Kolisnik went flying today and sent me a text update through the comment form. In case you missed it, she says Lake of the Woods is 99% ice free as of Sunday afternoon. She found only a little patch of ice south of French Narrows, down by Butterfly Island, and she estimates it as half a mile long and about as wide.

Thanks, Joe and Ashley!

It has been wonderful to see so many people contributing to the Ice Patrol this year.

I’m supposed to go flying tomorrow, and I hope to be able to get a look at the lake then. However, there is a forecast for a significant snowfall starting Monday and worsening through the afternoon and evening, so the weather may not cooperate.


April 21, 2017: Ashley Kolisnik

Scroll to the bottom  of today’s post for a Friday afternoon update.

Ashley took these pictures and sent them to me yesterday, but for technical reasons, I didn’t receive them until today.

The best part is, I just had a comment from someone who was curious about Lunny’s Island and Bare Point. This drew my attention to the fact that I had flown all around both places without taking a clear shot of either. But Ashley did.

Scotty Island, the Manitou.

This is a close-up of Scotty Island, looking south west down the Manitou toward Whiskey Island.

Town Island

The second picture is shows the Manitou from a bit further east, with Town Island in the right foreground, and Scotty Island and Nanton’s Island under the propeller blade. Bell’s Island and part of Lunny Island are just above the aircraft’s nose.

Bare Point Marina, Bigstone Bay.

Bare Point itself is just off the right edge, but this is a great shot of the Marina, looking out over Bigsby and Queen Bee Islands and south east along Bigstone Bay.

Thanks, Ashley.

One other cool thing: Bill Whicher contacted me to show how the False Color images from the MODIS satellites make it really easy to distinguish the ice on Lake of the Woods. Heavy ice is a lovely turquoise colour. Thin or rotten ice doesn’t show up as well. For that, you want the True Color image. Both links are to images from April 19th, when skies were clear.  It looks as if the lake is down to about 10% strong white ice cover, with weak dark ice probably amounting to a further 10-15%.


Thanks, Bill.

4:00PM Update: Today’s satellite pictures just came out. They show ice nearly all gone.

True Color April 21      False Color April 21


April 20, 2017: Tipping Point

It’s been a whole week since I could upload pictures, so I’m very glad I could take some new ones today. A lot has changed.

We have reached the tipping point. In the early spring, I take pictures of patches of water surrounded by ice. When we reach the halfway point, my pictures start to be of the ice/water boundary areas.

Okay, let’s go.

Longbow Lake, Pine Portage Bay, Bigstone Bay.

This first shot looks south west. Longbow Lake is at the left, Pine Portage Bay is more to the right, and the big patch of ice is Bigstone Bay. Note that Longbow is completely open. In Pine Portage Bay, Northern Harbour has some water to work with, but you cannot yet sail out of the bay onto the rest of the lake.

You can click on these pictures to see a larger version that’s zoomable to full resolution. That’s especially handy if you want to see something in the distance.

Next, we moved straight ahead to get closer to Hay Island.

Bigstone Bay, Hay Island.

Thunder Bay, home of Smith Camps, is at the left, with Long Point separating it from Pine Portage Bay, but Northern Harbour is just out of sight under the plane’s nose. There’s open water in those small bays, but as usual, ice in Bigstone Bay is holding out, making it tough to reach the area around Middle Island and Hay Island.

We went a little further to get a good look at Middle Island and Scotty Island.

Middle Island, Scotty Island.

The water’s wide open all the way to Scotty Island now, although a little pan ice is clinging to the north shore. Middle Island is mostly open, but it would be tricky to reach it from the east side. In the distance, you can see that Andrew Bay is open, but  there’s still lots of ice south of the Barrier Islands. Also notice that the Manitou is only open as far as Whiskey Island. Beyond that, the ice looks quite strong.

This next shot shifts the view to the right, looking more directly west.

Whiskey Island, Wolf Island, Thompson Island.

Town Island is just to the right of the aircraft’s nose in the picture above with just a little ice trapped around Galt Island. Roger’s Island and Treaty Island are open.

Let’s take a closer look at that area.

Treaty Island, Coney Island, Kenora.

We’ve climbed quite high now, so this shot shows the whole area from Galt Island at the lower left corner, past Treaty Island near the center, to downtown Kenora at the right. Devil’s Gap is clear, and the ice is all gone in  Rat Portage Bay, with Gun Club Island wide open.

Next, a different view of the Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake area.

Bald Indian Bay, Pine Portage Bay, Longbow Lake, Bigstone Bay.

This time we’re looking south east, so you can see all of Pine Portage Bay and Longbow Lake, and the far end of Bigstone Bay. The ice on Bigstone still looks pretty sturdy.

This last shot covers downtown again, but I’m including it because it looks west and offers a better view of Darlington Bay, and in the distance, Clearwater Bay and Shoal Lake.

Rat Portage Bay, Safety Bay, Darlington Bay, Winnipeg River.

We didn’t have time to fly further west, so Garrett snapped this shot from the pilot’s side while I took the controls for a moment. Darlington Bay is open. In the distance, Clearwater still has quite a bit of ice, and from the looks of it, Shoal Lake is still mostly frozen, at least the south part.

At the time I took these pictures, the pedestrian footbridge to Coney Island was still in place. You can just make it out behind the wing if you zoom in on this shot. But now that the ice is not an obstacle to boat traffic, the bridge will be coming out.

As we left town behind, we got rather too high to get good pictures, but we noticed that both Upper and Lower Black Sturgeon are open, while Silver Lake still has ice. Even further north, in my old float-plane stomping grounds, Maynard Lake and Oak Lake are about half open.

What does all this mean, in terms of how long until all the ice is gone on Lake of the Woods? With huge stretches of the lake open, the wind is able to really drive the ice and break it up.

I looked at some past years, and hunted for pictures with about the same amount of ice remaining. I would say we are now about ten days ahead of 2015 and 2016. That suggests that we have only a few days to go. Under ideal conditions, we could see the ice disappear this weekend. But. The weekend forecast is for single-digit highs, and overnight lows below freezing. Let’s just say within a week, and cross our fingers.




April 18, 2017: No Photos Yet

I didn’t fly on the Easter weekend or Monday, so I haven’t had a chance to take fresh aerial photographs.

Saturday was perfect ice-busting weather: sunny, warm, and very windy.

I made a road trip through the Whiteshell, and Falcon Lake is open. Other lakes between Kenora and the Manitoba border were changing fast. Granite Lake was open, Moth Lake was down to just floating ice pans, and what I could see of Caribou Lake was open. Clearwater Bay was not.

In Kenora, Rabbit Lake and Round Lake are open.

Easter Sunday was cold and snowy, so things slowed down a bit. Monday was also cool and cloudy. I talked to one of the local pilots who sends me pictures; he was planning a trip if the weather picked up by midday. It didn’t, and I don’t think he went. I went out for another drive.

At Pye’s Landing, Deception Bay is clear, but there was still ice on the main part of Clearwater Bay.

Cloudy conditions have blocked satellite cameras from getting a good look at Lake of the Woods since Saturday. At that time, it looked as if Lake of the Woods was approaching the halfway point, with large expanses of open water amounting to nearly fifty percent of the lake’s surface. That’s when windy conditions can play a big part, so I’m anxious to get out there and see what’s happened. Some of my Walsten Air friends will be flying this afternoon, but the forecast is for increasing cloud cover and a chance of showers, so I don’t know if they’ll get anything today.