By Nick Simonson
With Thanksgiving Day temperatures touching 70, and much of the region forecast to be well above average for the next few days with both highs and lows above freezing, hardwater anglers will have to wait it out for good ice, after many experienced a successful first foray following a cold start to the month. The forecasted warm-up will bring with it a hasty retreat from the frozen surface, with many towing their portable shacks behind them and it will serve as a reminder that when it comes to accessing frozen lakes and ponds, patience is key. In this time of waiting, recalling a few important safety tips for ice fishing and preparing for the worst, helps ensure a successful season when winter descends in earnest.
10. Carry basic survival tools. A knife, a lighter, a whistle and ice picks are the bare bones basics you’ll need in case of trouble. A small first aid kit, a GPS unit, duct tape and a Ziploc bag are great to have too. Much of what you need to survive can be packed in a tacklebox or in an Altoids tin. Use the Ziploc bag to keep it all waterproofed.
9. Be a “half-full” angler. Keep fuel levels on your truck, snowmobile and ATV at half or better when you’re headed to the lake. That way you’re guaranteed not to get stranded in the cold for lack of gasoline.
8. Keep it on the rocks, not on the ice. Save the celebration for after the outing. Alcohol impairs judgment, hinders mobility, results in faster body heat loss and has been a contributing factor in many ice-related incidents in recent years.
7. Stay clear. Keep loose clothing, mittens and other items secured when using motorized equipment, including augers. The drawstrings of a hooded sweatshirt tangle easily in the top of the engine while it is running.
6. Layer up and pack an extra set of clothes. You can’t put on what you don’t bring with. Wear multiple layers of clothes and keep an extra set packed in your truck or sled, just in case a boot – or your whole body – breaks through.
5. Be thick-headed. Know what thicknesses of good, clear ice can support you. Four inches will hold a person. Eight inches will hold an ATV or snowmobile. 12 Inches will hold a small automobile and 16 inches of clear ice will generally hold a pickup. These are just guidelines, so adjust as needed based on ice conditions and formation in your area; gray, chunky or honeycombed ice is significantly weaker.
4. Watch the weather and the water. Especially as we’ve seen at this point in the year, strong warm ups and rain can have quick negative effects on ice quality. Monitor what’s coming on the next front and what has happened recently in the areas you plan to fish, as recent rains or prolonged temperatures above freezing can weaken ice. Additionally, late-departing waterfowl such as Canada geese and schooling fish like tullibee can impact areas of ice. Where these birds spent their last day will have thinner ice than the surrounding area, and large schools of whitefish near the surface have been known to keep ice from forming too.
3. Know your water body. Have a good understanding – and a map – of areas on your fishing waters which are known to have questionable ice. Note areas of currents, springs, aerators, bridges, culverts or vegetation which make ice unstable and avoid traveling or fishing near them. Mark these places with your GPS and avoid them.
2. Let ‘em know before you go. Provide information to a non-angler back home as to what lake you’ll be on, what areas you’ll be fishing and when you’ll check in and return. Leave detailed directions on how to find you along with your contact information and that of the anglers you will be with.
1. No ice is safe ice. It’s not terra firma, there’s no safety net, and it just can’t be trusted. No matter what month of the hardwater season, no matter how cold it has been, no ice is 100 percent safe. Remember that with every step and have a plan in place if you break through. Don’t drive on ice if you don’t have to. If you fall in, go back the way you came, using ice picks to pull yourself up.
Follow these tips as you venture out this month on the first few inches of safe ice, and remember them all season, long after area lakes have locked up and winter has settled in.
(Featured Photo: Crappies are a favorite early ice pursuit, but recent weather may have anglers staying off the ice for a while. That makes now a perfect time to recall some on-ice safety reminders. Simonson Photo)