Despite the bitter cold, don't trust the ice

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Despite the bitter cold, don't trust the ice

December 11, 2002

BY ERIC SHARP, DETROIT FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

It was a lovely 2 degrees above zero as I filled my truck at the gas station, yet that wasn't the reason my friend Dave looked as pale as a ghost when he drove up.

Dave, whose last name is omitted for reasons that shall become obvious shortly, had decided to make his first ice fishing foray of the season on a little lake near our homes, a lake that often yields some nice perch and bluegills for those who know where to fish for them.

Dave said that when he reached the lake, tracks on the shoreline and the ice showed that someone had fished there the previous day, so he confidently unloaded his portable shanty from the back of his truck, stacked his bait bucket and fishing gear on top and began hauling the rig out to a place where perch usually hang out around a small hump.

"I was walking in the other guys' tracks about 50, 60 yards from shore," Dave said, "when I heard the ice go, 'CRACK.' I stopped dead still, but there was only a little crack under my feet, so I started to go again. I went about two more steps and the ice broke and I was in up to my left thigh."

He managed to get his leg out of the water and rolled onto his back to rest. But when he turned over on his stomach to stand up, his left knee broke through and he was suddenly waist-deep in cold water again.

"The edges kept breaking off as I tried to pull myself out," he said. "I was trying to keep from going in any deeper. I finally managed to sort of roll out of the water, but I was absolutely shot by the time I got out, breathing like a racehorse. I had a pretty long rope attached to the shanty, so I'd crawl about 20 feet, then stop and pull the shanty along, then I'd crawl another 20 feet and do it again. It only took a few minutes to get back to shore, but it seemed like an hour."

He drank a cup of coffee inside the gas station and then we drove to another friend's house, where Dave could dry off to keep his wife from seeing his frozen pants legs.

"Before I left, she kept saying that it wasn't safe to go out on the ice yet," Dave said. "And she said it was dumb to go by myself. If she finds out she was right, she'll kill me."

His experience should be a lesson to anyone contemplating going onto the ice for any reason this weekend, whether it's to fish or ski or ride a snowmobile.

Early ice is usually a wonderful time to catch fish, but ice less than 3 inches thick is barely safe for walking. Five inches is better.

One problem at this time of year is that lakes freeze very unevenly, and one spot may have twice as much ice as another spot 30 feet away.

That's not a problem when the thick spot has a foot of ice, but if it only has 4 inches, you could wind up as a winter casualty statistic.


Contact ERIC SHARP at 313-222-2511 or esharp@freepress.com. Order his new book, "Fishing Michigan," for $15.95 at http://www.freep.com/bookstore or by calling 800-245-5082.
 

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