MIKE BRAUN Safety first for fishing on ice

What's the best thing to consider if you plan to go ice fishing this season?
Consider all ice unsafe.
If you treat your ice-fishing expedition with the caveat that the ice you tread may not be all that sturdy, and you plan and make preparations accordingly, then chances are you'll have a safe and enjoyable time walking on frozen water.
Warm weather: A warm entry into winter in the early days of December may have put thoughts of winter into sleep mode for many, but the past two weeks or so have brought the cold roaring back.
Enough subzero days in a row have passed that ice has formed on many area lakes, and ice-anglers of all shapes and sizes are taking advantage of that fact.
So, what should you do to stay safe while ice fishing?
Ice fishing is a popular activity on the more northern lakes, ponds and reservoirs in Ohio and Pennsylvania. With rapidly changing weather conditions across both states, it is not possible for either state's wildlife departments to keep accurate, up-to-the minute track of ice conditions for specific lakes and ponds. The only accurate way to check ice conditions is to personally check ice conditions.
Suffice it to say that ice can be dangerous. Ice does not freeze in a uniform pattern and wildly fluctuating temperatures and weather conditions can fool many into thinking a nice, thick ice cover has formed on most area still waters.
To help ice anglers stay safe this season, the Pennsylvania Fish Commission has offered the following general guidelines:
UThick blue-black ice is stronger than milky white ice.
UFour inches of solid ice is the minimum recommended level for a small group of skaters or several anglers. Use an auger to test the thickness of ice before you go out on it.
UPerimeter ice is weaker due to shifting, expansion and sunlight reflecting off the bottom. Avoid areas with protruding logs, brush, plants and docks. These structures can absorb heat from the sun, thus weakening the surrounding ice.
Changing air temperatures and standing water on ice can weaken and crack it. Single, unbroken pressure cracks in the ice are probably safe to cross, but stay away from areas where cracks meet or intersect.
UVenturing out alone is not advisable. Take a friend along for fun -- and for safety's sake. Ohio has an official list of ice-fishing guides who can make your ice-fishing adventure quite a bit safer (see accompanying box).
ULet others know exactly where you are going and when you will return.
UWear a personal flotation device.
UKnow how to dress for cold weather by using the layering system. Layering makes it easier to remove or put clothes back on if you get too warm or too cold. The first layer should be thermal underwear that wicks away perspiration. Your second layer should be insulating like fleece, wool or flannel pants and shirts. The outside layer should be a windproof and waterproof jacket or down-filled coat with a hood.
UDon't forget to wear a warm wool, fleece or knit hat. Avoid cotton because it's not a good insulator, especially when wet.
Other things to remember to make ice-fishing more of a memorable time, rather than a frigid, miserable activity include:
UWear insulated waterproof or rubber boots, liner socks and a pair of thick wool or noncotton socks.
UKeep your boots loose to avoid cutting off warm circulation to your feet.
UWear neoprene or waterproof nylon mittens to protect your hands from the icy water. Or wear thin rubber gloves (hospital type) to allow flexibility, and then slip mittens over them.
UBring a small bag of sand to sprinkle around your ice hole for better traction.
UExtra dry clothes and socks in case you get wet.
UEnergy-rich snacks and warm drinks to fuel you through the cold day.
UA coil of rope to use in case someone falls through the ice.
USmall first aid kit in case you need to treat an injury.
UMatches stored in a waterproof container or 35mm film canister in case you need to start a fire.
UHome-made ice awls carried in an easily accessible outer pocket.
UPFD seat cushion to use as a seat or flotation in case of an emergency.
UHand warmers.
If the unthinkable happens and you do fall through the ice, there are some things you need to remember and do:
UDon't panic if you fall through; remain calm.
UUse ice awls to pull yourself up onto the ice.
U Try & quot;swimming out, & quot; which lets your body rise up and allows you to get onto firm ice.
UUse your legs to kick behind you to keep from being pulled under.
UIf you can't get to safety, call for help.
USlip your & quot;loose boots & quot; off to make treading water easier.
UKeep your clothes on because they will insulate you from the cold water.
UOn the ice, stay low and distribute your weight over as much surface area as possible.
UIf you become wet, immediately change into dry clothes and seek warm shelter.
Nothing is worth risking your life for, even ice fishing. If the ice doesn't look safe, or if you have doubts, go home and wait until the ice freezes further.

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