Now that the hunting season is coming to an end, we have to look ahead to ice-fishing season. Could we have early ice this year? That would be a switch. Or will we have another winter like last year's?
I hope so, but knowing what Mother Nature can do scares the heck out of me, as she might decide to make up for last year. Then we would have something to talk about as we wile away the hours waiting for ice-out and the return to spring fishing.
It's been a long time since we've had a tough winter and had safe ice in December that stayed around through mid-April. Is this the year? We have to assume that ice-in will take place in late December, so get your shanties in shape, check out your rods, line, hooks and all of the other paraphernalia that you take to the lake. As I have said in the past, do not venture out on the ice until you know if it is safe.
Never guess the thickness of the ice — check it. Check the ice in several different places using an auger or some other means to make a test hole, and determine the thickness, beginning at the shore and continuing as you go out.
Check the ice with a partner, so if something does happen, someone is there to help you. If you are doing it alone, wear a life jacket.
If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.
Avoid areas with currents, around bridges and pressure ridges. Wind and currents can break ice.
Parents should alert children of unsafe ice in their area, and make sure that they stay off the ice. If they insist on using their new skates, suggest an indoor skating rink.
If you break through the ice, remember:
- Don't panic.
- Don't try to climb out immediately — you will probably break the ice again. Reach for solid ice.
- Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Once on the ice, roll, don't walk, to safety.
To help someone who has fallen through the ice, lie down flat and reach with a branch, plank or rope, or form a human chain. Don't stand. After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to the solid ice.
Safe ice guidelines are as follows, for new, clear ice only:
- 2 inches or less — stay off
- 4 inches — may allow ice fishing or other activities on foot
- 5 inches — often allows for snowmobile or ATV travel
- 8-12 inches of good ice supports most cars or small pickups
- 12-15 inches will likely hold a medium-sized truck.
Check with the local bait and tackle shops, as they will know how thick the ice is.
However, early in the season or if we have warm days followed by cold nights and cool days, watch for water on the surface. This usually means thin ice allowing water to come up on the surface. Not always, but it is a concern. Be careful.