Bad ice out there

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The major story of ice fishing this year has been the “ice,” not the “fishing.”

Several people asked me last week if I had been ice fishing, and before I could answer they added, “I was just wondering about the ice.”

I say, “precarious.”

People who have to ask how safe the ice is, probably shouldn’t be on it.

In other words, veteran ice fishermen (aka survivors) pretty much know what to expect for an ice cover, based on recent weather.

This year, if you are expecting 2-3 inches of clear ice, covered by 2-3 inches of water, then 7-10 inches of soft snow on top, you are pretty much right on.

You know the drill, walk 30 yards on the ice, then BOOM!, your right boot suddenly drops almost a foot, your eyes widen and your heart leaps up into your throat!

Not fun, hoping only your boots get wet, not your stocking cap.

Smaller, shallower lakes that froze early may have thicker ice. Larger lakes may not really have solid ice yet—just a layer of packed snow.

Years ago, when I was teaching ice fishing, I could always count on very good questions regarding the safety of ice. Thankfully many, many people are apprehensive concerning ice safety.

And this topic has been addressed many times in this space.

I was also asked recently if I always carried a pair of ice picks on a cord around my neck.

Nope, not now, and once again, it’s all about knowing the condition of the ice. If you fall through now, there’s very little chance you’ll be able to pull yourself forward, back up onto the ice.

Reason is the ice is too thin, covered with mush. Save the picks for solid ice.

Recently the best safety equipment is a long rope and a strong fishing partner.

Very cold weather won’t thicken the ice now. Too much snow insulation.

In the long run, heavy rains that would erode the settled layers of snow and allow water to refreeze is our best, short-term hope for safe ice.

Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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