For many Carbon County residents, working or playing on the frozen surface of a river or lake is part of winter. Knowing how to do so safely can be a matter of life or death.
The following information presents general, common-sense precautionary measures that should be followed when planning to be on a floating freshwater ice cover. Although not all ice conditions can be explained, it is important for ice anglers to use their best judgement when enjoying the winter sport.
While preparing an ice fishing adventure, anglers should remember the following four tips.
Physical condition. Anyone who goes out on the ice should be in reasonably good condition and be able to sustain periods of intense exertion if an emergency arises. Emergencies such as falling through the ice themselves or rescuing someone who does. Being able to swim, or at least being comfortable staying afloat, is important in an emergency and can reduce the chances for panic.
Clothing. Naturally, anglers should choose clothing that provides protection from low air temperatures, wind, and precipitation while at the same time allowing mobility. But in addition, when selecting clothing, keep in mind the possibility of falling through the ice.
Clothing that would severely restrict the ability to swim or to stay afloat is not a good choice. Hip boots or waders should never be worn, as they can fill with water and restrict movement while adding weight.
A personal flotation device should be worn. This can be a vest or jacket, either inflatable or aturally buoyant.
Equipment. Include items for testing and measuring the ice thickness, as well as items for rescue or self-rescue.
It is important to include a heavy ice chisel, an ice drill or auger (manual or powered), a measuring tape or stick that can be hooked under the bottom edge of the ice in an auger hole, and possibly a perforated ladle for cleaning ice out of the auger holes.
In addition to the floatation device, bring a rope or rescue throw bag containing a rope that floats. Ice rescue picks sold for ice anglers are an excellent idea. They thread through the jacket sleeves like children's mittens and are immediately available in an emergency for pulling oneself out of the water onto the ice.
Procedures. Never go out on an ice cover alone, and never go out on the ice if there is any question of its safety.
While planning the outing, obtain the record of air temperature for the past several days and continue observing air temperatures while the ice will be used to support loads.
Always let someone know of fishing plans and when the time of return is expected.
Visually survey the ice from the edge of the waterway before stepping out on to the surface. Look for open water areas, and look for signs of recent changes in water levels including ice sloping down from the bank because the water dropped, or wet areas on the ice because the water rose and flooded areas of the ice that couldn't float because it was frozen to the bottom or the banks. If the ice is snow-covered, look for wet areas in the snow.
Listen for loud cracks or booms coming from the ice. In a river this can mean the ice is about to break up or move. On a lake larger than several acres such noises may be harmless responses to thermal expansion and contraction.
Look for an easy point of access to the ice, free of cracks or piled, broken ice.
If taking a vehicle or other equipment on the ice, go out on foot first. Vigorously probe ahead with the ice chisel. If the chisel ever goes through, carefully turn around and retrace the steps back to shore, and try again some other day.
Near shore, listen for hollow sounds while probing. Ice sloping down from the bank may have air space underneath. This is not safe. Ice must be floating on the water to support loads.
After getting on the ice, others in the group should follow in the leader's steps, but stay at least 10 feet apart.
Only after learning the characteristics of the ice cover should any vehicle be taken on the ice.
By following these simply safety steps, ice fishing season will be a safe and successful one for all Carbon County anglers this season.