Safety Guidelines for Early Season Ice Anglers

With early ice fishing seasons kicking off, this story from the Jackson County Chronicle reminds anglers venturing onto frozen waterways of some important safety guidelines.

_Ice is beginning to thicken on area waterways and anglers are getting ready for one of Wisconsin’s most anticipated winter activities — ice fishing.

Knowing when it is safe to venture out onto the ice, how to travel on ice and what to do should the ice break is as important as the rudiments of fishing itself.

“Most law enforcement personnel will tell you that because it can be tricky, there is no such thing as safe ice,” said Dave Zebro, DNR law enforcement supervisor. “And although a lake or river is frozen, that does not mean it can be safely traveled.”
_Zebro offers these tips to anglers and others who plan to venture onto the ice this winter:

– Clear, solid ice at least 2 inches thick is usually sufficient to hold a single person walking on foot. For safety’s sake, wait until the ice is at least 3 inches thick and go with a friend. Keep at least 50 feet of distance between each other. Ice fishing with several friends and gear requires at least 4 inches of ice, and snowmobiles and ATV’s require 5 inches.

– Ice generally will be thicker near shore and get thinner as one ventures out. Check ice thickness with an ice spud or auger starting from a few feet from shore and every 10 to 20 feet as one goes towards the middle of the waterway.

– Lake ice generally is stronger than river ice. Springs, lake inlets and outlets and channels can alter ice thickness.

– Before heading out onto early or newly formed ice, check with a local bait shop, resort owner or outdoors store regarding ice thickness or known thin spots.

– Whether alone or with a friend on early ice, always carry a couple large sharpened nails and a length of rope in an easily accessible pocket. The nails or commercially bought ice grabbers can help a person pull themselves out of the water and onto more solid ice. The rope can be thrown to another person for rescue.

– If you are alone and go through the ice, take a few seconds to get over the “cold shock.” Regain your breathing, kick hard and try to swim up onto the ice. If successful, crawl on your hands and knees or roll to more solid ice. Get to the nearest warm place quickly. If your attempts to swim onto the ice are unsuccessful, get as much of your body out of the water as possible and yell for help. Studies show you will have about 30 minutes before the body is incapacitated by hypothermia.

– Proper clothing can increase chances of survival should a person break through the ice. A snowmobile-type suit, if it is zipped, can and will trap air and slow the body’s heat loss. Once filled with water, however, insulated suits become heavy and will hinder rescue. Newer model snowmobile suits have flotation material built in and anyone traversing ice should consider purchasing one of these suits. On early ice it is advised to wear a personal flotation device.

– Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible. Traveling in a vehicle, especially early or late in the season, is an accident waiting to happen.

– When driving on ice, be prepared to leave the vehicle in a hurry. Unbuckle the seat belt and have a simple plan of action in case of ice break through. Anglers may want to leave a window open for an easy exit.

– Often vehicles will establish roads from shore to the current fishing hot spots. Repeated vehicle use may cause the ice to weaken. The ice roads may not always be the safest routes.

– When using a gas or liquid heater to warm an ice shack or tent, make sure it is properly ventilated with at least two openings, one at the top and one at the bottom of the structure. Any flame eats oxygen, so proper ventilation is required._