Low temperatures this week should help make Minnesota's lakes safer for anglers. But already two people have died this season after falling through thin ice.

Near Camp Ripley, a 59-year-old bait shop owner plowing a road on Lake Alexander for ice anglers died when his ATV crashed through thin ice Saturday.

Gary Donald Deppa of Cushing was pronounced dead at the scene. He owned the Lakeview Store, a bait shop and convenience store.

"There's been up to 8 inches of ice on the lake,'' said conservation officer Jeff Halverson, who patrols the area and knew Deppa. "He might have just hit a bad spot. It's a shame.''

Two days earlier, 81-year-old angler Edwin Senska of Lake Washington died after he went through ice on the lake near Mankato.

The two ice-related deaths are one more than occurred all last season, said Tim Smalley of the Department of Natural Resources. The snow that covers most lakes insulates them and slows the freezing process, Smalley said. Ice thickness can vary greatly. In the Bemidji area, there's anywhere from open water to 10 inches, he said.

"We'd sure recommend keeping vehicles off the ice for a while,'' he said.

There have been other close calls. At Cass Lake, an ATV went through the ice over the weekend, dunking the driver and his 7-year-old son, but both escaped uninjured.

The DNR warns that people need 4 inches of solid, clear ice to support a person, and 5 inches to support an ATV or snowmobile.

Meanwhile, conservation officers report many anglers are venturing onto lakes.

There was a reported 3 to 7 inches of ice on Lake of the Woods and anglers were catching fair numbers of fish. Near Moorhead, lakes had 4 to 8 inches, with slushy areas, but some anglers with snowmobiles and ATVs were on the lakes. Near Perham, officer Chris Vinton reports improving ice conditions on area lakes, with 3 to 10 inches, but there is slush and water in many locations.

DOUG SMITH