Don’t take ice safety for granted
Photo By Dennis Jensen
Jim Lynch of Castleton, who lives just off the lake, reels in a yellow perch through the ice on Lake Bomoseen in this photo taken last winter.
As with many truths of nature, those with the wisdom of experience can see things that many of us cannot.
Just last week, I was were seated in the living room at the home of Jim Lynch, where a portion of Lake Bomoseen is visible.
“You see where there’s ice and where there’s open water?”
I looked out and responded that, yes, I could.
“Later, when the whole lake freezes, there might be 4 or 5 inches of ice where we see ice today,” Jim said. “And that part of open water we see today might be 1 or 2 inches thick when the lake first freezes over.”
So, Jim went on, if you didn’t take the time to check the ice, with something like a good spud, as you went out further on the ice, in one moment you’re on safe ice and the next, you swimming in open water, desperately trying to save your own life.
Ice fishing is a great pastime, something I have really taken to since my retirement in 2010. And I have been especially fortunate to have as an ice fishing mentor my longtime hunting and fishing pal Jim Lynch.
Jim is a dedicated ice angler and knows more about catching perch through the ice than just about anyone. On most days, in January and February, “The Lord of the Lake” and a handful of other regulars will be out on the ice, jigging for yellow perch. On most of those days, I’ll be out there as well.
As rewarding as ice fishing can be, there is always an element of danger, particularly the possibility of going through the ice, even when the ice is a foot or more thick.
One cold day last winter, on one of those rare days when Jim and a few of his pals from General Electric decided to fish on another body of water, I hastened out on the ice alone.
The wind was blowing at about 15 to 20 mph and I cursed myself for not hauling out my portable shanty. But here I was, making my way across Lake Bomoseen, my gear in tow on a big sled, when I spotted a lone angler, just off Neshobe Island.
I struck up a conversation with the man, seated on a white bucket with three perch on the ice.
He seemed friendly enough, so I offered him a cup of hot coffee from my Thermos. Then, he told me about what had happened to him a week earlier and, as he told his tale, an even colder chill made its way down my back.
Fishing alone and with more than a foot of ice on the lake, he came upon a pressure crack as he made his way to where he wanted to fish that morning.
The pressure crack, he said, revealed open water about 18 inches wide and, using his hand auger to check the firmness of the ice before he stepped over the crack, he leaped across.
The next thing the ice fisherman knew, he was submerged in the frigid water. He had stepped on ice that was unsafe and plunged into the water, his ice auger dropped forever into the depths of Lake Bomoseen.
The angler, who asked to remain anonymous but whose story was confirmed by two other ice fishermen, managed to pull himself up onto the ice and, with the help of nearby anglers, was quickly brought to shore and into a lakeside home, where he recovered.
The one thing to keep in mind is, no matter how many precautions you take, the possibility of going through the ice is always very real, at any time, when you are out on any frozen body of water.
One item I always carry in my winter coat pocket is a set of hand spikes. If you go through the ice, you can help to pull yourself onto the surface of the ice by alternately punching them into the ice, then pulling yourself to safety.
The recent cold temperatures, in the single digits and even below zero, means that I’ll most likely be out on the ice as you read these words.
The point is, be careful out there. It might be wise to have a fishing pal along, just in case something goes wrong. But, above all, keep a close eye out for open water and, early in the season, make sure you are fishing with some good thickness, about 4 inches of ice.
And bring a spud along, making it a point to stop and check the thickness of the ice by hammering the spud down, in front of you, as often as possible.