|Break the Ice|
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As soon as people around the Great Lakes begin putting their boats away for the winter, ice fishermen start going through their gear and preparing for the upcoming season. The wait for “safe ice” begins. Every year, both new and experienced ice anglers wait with anticipation for the day when the ice will be thick enough to venture out upon.
Safety on the ice is always more important than catching fish. Regardless of your experience, reminding yourself of safety tips is always a good idea. I’ve often heard my friends say that the first rule of ice fishing is “never trust the ice.” This is why some basic safety equipment should always accompany you out on the ice. First is a set of ice picks worn around your neck. They should be in place before you take your first step onto the ice. If you fall in, they are within reach and can be used to grab solid ice so that you can pull yourself out.
Ice is slippery and injury caused by falls is not uncommon. There are different types of cleats you can slip on over your boots for traction. These lessen the chance of injury from slipping and falling, and make it very easy to move safely along the ice.
Four inches of ice is considered the minimum for safe ice fishing. If the area you are fishing is crowded, a couple inches thicker is safer. Two of my friends who ice fish together bring a long section of sturdy rope with them. The lead person tests the ice with a long pole while the second person pulls the gear on a sled. The rope is on top so it is accessible in case the lead person falls through. My friends never ice fish alone. They also carry their cell phones in waterproof zip-lock bags. And yes, they learned this the hard way.
Six inches is generally considered safe for ATVs, and 12 inches is the norm for driving on ice, although your insurance company won’t likely cover a loss if your car goes through no matter how thick the ice was.
Even though ice fishing is allowed on some harbors around the Great Lakes, there are many areas to avoid. These include any place with a current or break walls, areas near open water and locations next to piers or pilings. Water movement around these areas can weaken ice even if nearby holes show the ice is safe. Any area frequented by ice breakers should also be avoided. Ice may look safe the day after an ice breaker has passed through, but in reality it almost never is.
Portable heaters also pose a danger when used inside of shelters. Be aware of the posibility of carbon monoxide poisoning when using kerosene or other gas-powered heaters. Electric heaters are the safest kind, and a spare set of batteries is always a good idea.
Another good rule to follow is that if you get cold, it’s time to leave. Hypothermia can creep up very quickly on a person. If you find yourself shivering, other symptoms may soon follow that might prevent you from being able to get off the ice on your own.
For those new to ice fishing, there are a few tools you’ll need. First, is a good auger to drill your holes. These can be hand- or gas-powered. If you are fishing for panfish such as bluegill or crappie, a six-inch auger might be all that you need. Larger fish such as walleye, trout and pike require larger holes. Gas augers are preferred for thicker ice and wider holes. It is very common for ice to reform in the holes you’ve drilled, so most experienced ice anglers carry a hole scoop to remove slush.
Second, you will need a quality ice fishing rod. These can be anywhere from 20 to 40 or more inches in length. Use a longer rod when targeting bigger fish. An ice fishing reel should be comfortable to use with and without gloves on, and should match the rod it is attached to. Quality ice fishing line has different characteristics than regular fishing line. It is usually lighter and remains supple in extremely cold weather and is less likely to break.