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Don’t be fooled: Ice fishing takes plenty of preparation

A quick scan through various social media this week revealed a lot of anglers are looking to cure their cabin fever with a little winter fishing time.

Pictures of nice catches of crappies, perch and walleyes litter the online resources, serving as temptation for those who miss the fresh air and spirited fish tussles they enjoyed during the warmer months.

Judging by the questions and comments, however, it is apparent that many people have only the barest inkling about getting ready for winter fishing trips on their favorite lakes. Ice fishing is one sport that practitioners must never try without proper preparation.

The first rule is that safety always comes first and foremost. If it doesn’t seem right, don’t do it. No trip out on the ice, regardless of how hot the fishing is reported to be, is worth a plunge into frigid water or a tumble on slippery ice.

No ice fishers should assume all of the ice is safe. Even with the prolonged cold snap in our region, the ice that has formed on ponds and reservoirs is still inconsistent in thickness.

Relatively thick ice may transition to thin ice in a matter of a step or two, so anglers are advised to tread lightly and probe often with a spud bar to reveal weak ice.

If you do decide to try your luck on the ice, enlist the help of a friend who has experience out there. Most veteran ice fishers are willing to share advice about augers, rods and reels, lures and baits, shelters, sleds, boot cleats and other tips.

People who spend a lot of time fishing on the ice know the value of proper layering of clothing and topping off with outerwear that withstands wind and repels water. Many also advise a flotation suit.

At the very least, anglers should wear a personal foam or inflatable flotation vest while walking and fishing out on the ice.

Anglers should avoid all ice that has formed over moving waters and on lakes with water levels that fluctuate. Moving water can erode ice to the point where it cannot support a person’s weight.

On fluctuating lakes, if the water level drops after the ice has formed, the void between the ice and the water provides no structural support to the ice formation.

Any angler who drills a hole and discovers the water level is inches (or more) below the ice should immediately back away and try another area where the ice is essentially floating on the surface of the liquid water.

Ice fishing requires walking in poor conditions to productive water. The trek can be difficult. The distance may not seem challenging, but trudging through snow or treading across bare ice can quickly exhaust people who are not accustomed to such exercise.

Add-on snow cleats are highly recommended for the extra traction they deliver. Anglers can secure them to their boots with nylon or rubber straps.

Should the unthinkable happen and you or another person breaks through the ice, you can increase the chances of getting out quickly if you carry a length of rope and a pair of ice picks (or even screw drivers). The ice picks can be used to spike the ice for firm grips that enable the victim to pull himself or herself to the surface.

The rope can be tossed to rescuers, who are advised to stay a good distance away from the broken ice as they pull the victim to safety.

Finally, consider that the social media posts and bait shop photo boards are showcasing only the most successful anglers’ catches. For every limit out on the ice, it is likely 10 or more people went home fishless. Always take the brag board pictures as a hint, not a promise.

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