Ice fishing can present a split personality for those who venture out across the frozen lakescapes. It can be a peaceful and pleasant experience or a terror-filled catastrophe.
The two faces of ice fishing can happen any time during the winter season, but they are especially possible on the early ice.
Though it has been cold enough to form ice, that’s no guarantee it is uniform in thickness and strength.
A few brave souls trekked out onto Mosquito this week to drill holes and jig for walleyes. More are likely to try the ice this weekend, now that the trail has been blazed. But nobody should assume the ice is totally safe.
As a matter of fact, Ohio Division of Wildlife counsels that no ice is safe ice. Anglers, cross-country skiers and walkers can never be absolutely certain the ice underfoot will hold their weight.
That fact, however, will not deter people from checking out area ponds and reservoirs for bluegills, perch, crappies and walleyes.
Those who go should always pack plenty of caution along with their cold-weather gear and fishing tackle.
Before heading out, drill a few test holes near shore. If you find the ice is less than 4 inches thick, go no farther.
I like it to be at least 6 inches before I consider investing in the time it takes to walk out to the good walleye spots at Mosquito and Berlin.
Whenever possible, choose a path out onto the ice that others have taken. While it doesn’t assure the ice is thick, a well-worn trail does provide a clue that it is likely to hold your weight.
Travel light. Take no more than the essentials. A heavy-laden sled and extra stuff stuffed in your pockets just add weight that at the very least makes you exert more effort and that could possibly be the straw that broke the camel’s back when you cross a thin spot.
Consider that areas where springs are welling up from the bottom will have thinner ice due to the moving water. Likewise, avoid areas where creeks are running into a frozen pond or lake.
At no time should anybody try to walk on river ice. The moving water does not allow freeze-up strong enough to bear the weight of people.
Carry two screwdrivers in your outer jacket pocket — one for the left hand and the other for the right.
Should you fall through the ice, you can use the screwdrivers to stab handgrips into the ice so you can pull yourself from the water.
Take more clothes than you think will be necessary. You don’t want to overdress for the slippery walk across the ice because you can easily get overheated, but you do want to have an extra hooded sweat shirt, windbreaker and dry socks should they become necessary.
Wear your life vest. The same PFDs that are required when you are boating can save your life if you fall through the ice.
Add cleats to your boots. Snow-covered ice may look like it provides good footing, but the cleats are insurance from a nasty slip and fall.
They are essential if you find you must cross areas of bare ice where traction is almost impossible to get with regular boot soles.