WOODS ‘N’ WATER: Be ‘heads up’ before thinking ‘tips up’

WOODS ‘N’ WATER: Be ‘heads up’ before thinking ‘tips up’


Got ice?

Ice was just beginning to form on some of the Connecticut waters when the snow storm hit us. The ski areas were very busy, but it seems that most of the open water has been taken away, at least for a while.

I made the rounds of some of the local waters and the coming of some hard water for the ice fishermen, at least locally, looks iffy.

This does not mean that some daredevil is not going to test fate by trying to be the first one on the ice this New Year.

And I really have to marvel (for want of a better word) at the thinking of the folks that throw a rock weighing less than a pound onto the ice to “see” if the ice is strong enough to hold them. Generally, the broken ice where they tried to get on the frozen water tells the story.

Here in Connecticut, we experience different bodies of water having ice on them before others. This sometimes creates a problem — meaning some unfortunate individual will go through the ice and, if lucky, get out and, if not, well, their family will be grieving.

We have just come through an unbelievable warm spell for this time of the year. And now we are suddenly experiencing a cold spell that has produced some shell ice on local waters. Any of the ice being covered with snow does not help the freezing, but slows the process, making it unsafe.

Now we are in that time of the year when the each day is getting a tad longer and the sun is getting higher. Generally speaking, ice formed in December followed by freezing weather is much safer than new ice that forms in January, although some extremely cold weather without snow mixed in increases the safety of going out on the ice.

There are many factors that can have an effect on the thickness of the ice, including springs, water movement and many I cannot even give you a reason for.

One incident that I use to show just how fickle ice can be happened a number of years ago on Gardner Lake in Salem. Ted Kittredge, Norm Van Cor and I were ice fishing the north end of the lake and having a ball, with the flags on our fishing type continually going up with fish on the end of the line. We caught plenty of fish and I could hardly wait for the next weekend to come and do some more ice fishing.

The passing week had some very cold weather, so I figured safe ice was not a problem — until I got to the lake. The very area we had been fishing, through ice that was four to five inches thick, was now open water!

The open water covered an area about an acre in size and was centered right on the very spot that we had fished the week before! I could not believe my eyes.

To this day, I have no idea on what happened to make that area ice free. I have been told that it could be because of an underground spring, but who knows?

I do know it has made me very cautious in following years when I went ice fishing.

Have you ever gone through the ice? I have. It is a sensation nightmares are made of. The cold water seems to force the breath out of your chest and fear is foremost in your mind as the freezing water numbs your body.

I was lucky enough to be pulled out from the hole in the ice by a nearby skater by the name of Ed Revay. I will never forget his name,even though this happened so many years ago.

Over the years, I have witnessed others going through the ice, all of them fortunate to have been saved by others who were in the area.

Fortunately, here in Connecticut, you are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle on the ice, but in some states that allow it I have seen and heard of tragic results.

In Vermont, my brother Paul told me about an incident involving a pickup truck on a lake he often fished. Paul said when he got to the lake, a group of fishermen were standing on the shore looking at a half-submerged truck that had broken through the ice — and this was on a lake that has had a number of vehicles on it.

The No. 1 thing in anyone’s mind when they go out on the ice is that NO ICE IS 100% SAFE!

Another incident involving a pickup truck happened up in New Yok State at an Annual Perch Fishing Derby. The ice had about a foot of snow on it and a good Samaritan took his brand-new truck with a brand-new plow and started to plow trails on the ice to make it easier for the participants to move around.

Suddenly, his brand-new pickup truck with the brand-new plow broke through the ice. Luckily, the driver was able to exit the cab and get pulled out of the water, but the vehicle went right to the bottom of the lake.

Over the years, I have heard all kinds of horror stories of vehicles going through the ice and even snowmobiles. When we do get some safe ice, please do not take it for granted. It is always a good idea to chop a couple of holes in the ice as you venture out for some fishing.

For me, personally, safe ice is when I see a number of fishermen already on it, but even then there is no guarantee the ice is safe everywhere.

It is never a good idea to venture out onto a lake alone, especially if there is no one else on the ice. The Connecticut DEEP tells us: 

■Under 4 inches, stay off;■4 inches, safe for on-foot activities;■5-7 inches safe for snowmobiles and ATVs.

A reminder: No regular vehicles are allowed on Connecticut ice. Also, Mirror Lake in Hubbard Park does allow fishing open water year round, but no ice fishing.

That’s it, gang. Stay safe and remember there is no fish worth dying for. See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops, police, firefighters, and first responders wherever they may be serving this great country of ours.