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WOODS ‘N’ WATER: The promise of first ice, and the perils

WOODS ‘N’ WATER: The promise of first ice, and the perils


“Flag up!”

Really? I saw the eyes on some diehard ice fishermen brighten when they saw the first coating of ice on most bodies of water in our area right at Thanksgiving.

Even though it was just skim ice, their hearts were pounding as they began to visualize another winter fishing through the ice. There was time that I was one of them, but not anymore.

However, just seeing that first ice got me to thinking about a few things, including frigid memories of going through thin ice a couple of times myself. 

One thing that continues to confound me is how the “safeness” of ice is sometimes determined by eager fishermen and skaters. They stand on the shore and throw rocks out onto the ice to “test” if the ice is safe.

Hello! The rock might weigh two pounds, at best, if thrown by a discus champ. So how does this compare to a human weighing well more than the rock?

Got the picture? Just because it will support a two-pound rock does not mean that it will support you.

There is something about first ice that turns some fishermen’s brains into bubble gum when it comes to watching out for their own safety. And, yes, some of them are the rock-throwers.

Me? I was always the cautious type when it came to going out on the ice. My very first comfort zone is seeing other fishermen on the ice, the more the merrier. Call me a sissy if you want, but I’d rather be a live sissy than a dead ice fisherman.

Thankfully, here in Connecticut you ARE NOT allowed to drive a vehicle on the ice. I asked Mike Beauchene, supervising fisheries biologist for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and he got this information from the state Environmental Conservation Police:

“Per motor vehicle statute 14.163a, motor vehicles are prohibited from driving on any frozen public body of water. A violation is a $92.00 infraction.

“ATVs and snowmobiles are permitted on frozen water as long as they are legally registered and legally transported to said body of water — i.e. you have permission from a private land owner to cross their property to get to the water or your trailer to a boat launch. You canno drive an ATV or snowmobile down a public road in order to get to a frozen lake or pond regardless of whether or not it is registered.” 

Even in some of the Northeast ice fishing areas in New England and New York, reports of vehicles going through the ice are not uncommon. 

A few years ago, there was an ice fishing derby on one of the lakes in upstate New York. Prior to the derby, they had a fairly heavy snow and one of the fishermen got the idea of plowing off some of the ice. He had a brand new pickup truck with a brand new plow rig. After a couple of passes across the ice, his truck broke through.

He escaped death. The truck wasn’t as lucky.

Another incident took place up in northern Vermont. My brother Paul fished one lake quite often and he was perplexed when he saw a group of people standing on the shore looking out across the ice. Then he saw it: the back end of a pickup truck sticking up out of the ice while the front was completely submerged.

Being first on the ice seems to be the driving force for many fishermen because they believe that this is when the ice fishing will be best. Quite a number of years ago, I ran into an old-timer who bragged that he was always the first one on the ice at one of the lakes even if he had to put some boards on the ice to stand on so he would not go through. 

Over the years I think I have just about seen it all when it comes to being safe on the ice. I have seen some ice fishermen putting their type perilously close to open water for reasons I can only imagine. They have a whole body of water frozen over and they choose to set up on the weakest portion of ice.

Have you ever gone through the ice? I have and it is a sensation you will never forget, especially if the water is over your head.

The cold water will force the air out of your lungs as you frantically try to get out of the water. If you are “lucky” you will come back up in the hole you fell through. If not, you may slide under the ice and not have very long to live. Sorry, I hate to make it sound so gruesome, but it’s just the way it is, and so unnecessary.

Personally, I really don’t have too much faith in those ice-thickness guidelines that state “3 inches or less, STAY OFF; 4 inches, Ice Fishing and Skating.” My sources say 4 inches should be the minimum for walking on the ice, 5-6 inches for snowmobiles and ATVs, 8-12 inches for cars and small trucks, and 12-15 inches for medium trucks. Snow-covered ice can be the most dangerous, especially when the ice first forms. The snow can cover any flaw in the ice — and even some ice that might have been open water the day before.

Some tips for safety on the ice include walking with a buddy. Stay several feet apart. If one falls in, the other can call for help. Also have a length of rope with you to be able to toss to someone who goes through. You can also purchase an ice pick with a lanyard to use to help pull yourself out of a hole in the ice. They can also be made at home and they do work.

One of the reasons I do not fully trust the ice safety charts is there are so many variables that can quickly change the thickness of the ice. That can be addressed in another column. Take note: There is no ice fishing at Mirror Lake in Hubbard Park. Even though it is stocked by the state, it is owned by the city, which does not allow ice fishing, although you may fish year round if the water is open. When the ice does come, stay safe.

See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.