Anglers welcome the start of 2021 ice fishing season
MANISTEE COUNTY — Mild temperatures this winter delayed the start of ice fishing season for much of northern Michigan, but hardening ice in places like Bear and Portage lakes has anglers ready to break out their shanties and ice augers.
Ice fishing can make for an exhilarating, but dangerous pastime. The risk of falling through thin ice is a real one, according to state officials with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which offered the following safety tips for ice fishing:
• There is not a reliable "inch-thickness" to determine if ice is safe;
• Test ice thickness and quality using a spud, needle bar or auger;
• Strongest ice: clear with bluish tint;
• Weak ice: ice formed by melted and refrozen snow. Appears milky;
• Stay off ice with slush on top. Slush ice is only half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is not freezing from the bottom;
• A sudden cold front with low temperatures can create cracks within a half-day;
• A warm spell may take several days to weaken ice, and cause the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night;
• Ice weakens with age;
• If there’s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline, be extra cautious;
• Stronger the current on the lake, the more likely the ice will give to open water; and
• Avoid areas of ice with protruding debris like logs or brush.
Ice covered by snow should always be considered unsafe. Recent snowfall can actually melt existing ice, because snow acts like an insulating blanket which slows the freezing process.
If you do break through the ice, DNR officials recommend the following actions:
• Remain calm;
• Don’t remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead provide warmth;
• Turn in the water toward the direction you came from, this is most likely the strongest ice;
• If you have ice picks, dig the points of the picks into the ice while vigorously kicking your feet to pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice;
• Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again;
• Get to shelter and replace wet clothing with warm, dry clothes and consume warm, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages as soon as possible; and
• Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia, which is a life-threatening condition.
ICE FISHING SAFETY WHEN TRAVELING ON ICE
Takemefishing.org, a division of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation also recommends the following when planning to traverse the ice:
• Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop. Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit;
• Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible. If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry — keep windows down and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers;
• Stay away from alcoholic beverages. Even "just a couple of beers" are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol makes you colder rather than warming you up;
• Don't "overdrive" your snowmobile's headlight. At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice; and
• Have the right ice fishing safety gear. Wear a life vest under your winter gear. Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it's a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers.
RECOMMENDED MINIMUM ICE THICKNESS
Most anglers know intuitively that thin ice can be extremely dangerous, but fewer may know white ice or "snow ice" is only half as strong as new clear ice.
By heeding the following ice thickness recommendations from Takemefishing.org, anglers can limit their risk of falling through thin ice:
• 2" or less — stay off;
• 4" — Ice fishing or other activities on foot;
• 5" — Snowmobile or ATV;
• 8"-12" — Car or small pickup; and
12"-15" — Medium truck.
These guidelines are for new, clear solid ice only. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe, according to Takemefishing.org. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice to ensure ice safety.
More information on safe and effective ice fishing can be found on the Department of Natural Resources website at Michigan.gov/DNR.