PERRY COUNTY—The only safe ice is found in a refrigerator. That isn’t quite how the Ohio Division of Wildlife phrases their official policy about ice fishing, but it is accurate. Now that temperatures in southern Ohio more resemble numbers worn by quarterbacks than our usual weather reports, fishermen will be drilling holes through the ice.
Although I am not an avid ice fisherman, I do feel obligated to reveal the techniques that have proven successful for me. First make sure you are properly attired. I highly recommend a layer of comfy pajamas. Then make sure you leave a clear path to the fridge, especially if you have left several Plano trays lying on the floor.
Nobody wants to make that embarrassing 9-1-1 call, “help, I’ve fallen and I have a crankbait in my chin and I’m stuck to the carpet.” Next step, grip the freezer door handle, open the freezer, and grab a handful of ice cubes.
So now you know I will not be wasting your time talking about my ice fishing expertise. However, I will change the tune of this article to preach a sermon on safety because we all have someone who cares deeply for us.
A call to Division of Wildlife District 4 headquarters in Athens led me to their website at www.ohiodnr.gov. Scrolling through the topics quickly led me to ice fishing safety tips. At the top of the list was sharing a “float plan” to let others know where you will be fishing. Include when you will be on the ice, where your vehicle will be parked, and how long you intend to fish.
Much like advice for swimmers, never ice fish alone. Take a fishing buddy or fish in an area where other anglers are present. Another safety tip from the Division’s website was contacting a local guide or bait shop to gather the most current ice conditions for where you intend to fish.
Since nearly everyone has a cellphone these days, put yours in a Ziploc plastic bag to insure it stays dry even if you don’t. Dress properly for the conditions, and that includes wearing an approved life vest.
The Division’s last safety tip is to avoid areas with feeder streams, springs, bridge pilings, docks, and dam structures. Ice tends to be thinner in these locations.
Scott Steuber, writing on the West Bend Cares blog , listed 13 safety tips that ice fishermen should follow. While every tip listed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife makes his list of 13, Steuber has several additional safety guidelines.
He starts his Tip #4 by stating that ice is NEVER 100 percent safe because its thickness can vary from one location to another on the same body of water. He continues with an outline on ice thickness. Two inches or less means STAY OFF. When ice reaches four inches of thickness, ice fishing or other activities on foot can take place. Steuber says five inches of ice will sustain a snowmobile or ATV.
Ice that reaches a thickness of 8 to 12 inches means it will hold a car or small pickup. A medium size truck requires 12 to 15 inches of ice.
My personal thought for driving cars or trucks when the ice is 15 inches thick is wait until ODOT salts the highway. I have seen pictures of people driving across the ice in Minnesota. Maybe there’s a shortage of highways up there, but we have plenty here in the Buckeye State.
Steuber takes the apparel issue to an added safety level by recommending a flotation suit. He says this may be the most important item you can buy because it can save your life if you fall through the ice. Another “if you go through” tool is a set of ice picks. I have also seen ice anglers who have two Phillips head screwdrivers on a string that runs over their neck and down the sleeves of their coat. Steuber recommends packing a throw rope as well as leaving the ice before dark.
For those anglers using an ice auger, Steuber says to read the owner’s manual carefully before operating it. He also suggests avoiding loose clothing or jewelry when running the auger. Staying hydrated is on the safety “to do” list because dehydration can take place as your body works hard to stay warm.
Mother Nature provides the kind of beauty and serenity no other venue can offer, but she isn’t long on second chances. Lives are lost every year in ice fishing related accidents, including the most experienced ice fishermen. If you venture onto the ice, do so knowing there is NO SUCH THING AS SAFE ICE.
Even those little ice cubes from your freezer can be lethal if you drop one on the kitchen floor in the dark. And that my friends, is the voice of experience speaking. Only thing that saved me was that my Plano 3600 was full of plastic worms instead of Rapalas.