Bob Harris - OUTDOORS and FREE - December 30, 2011
BE SAFE ICE-FISHING LAKES and PONDS THIS WINTER
So far, it has been a slow month of ice formation on our southern lakes and ponds. Although our own Glen Lake has ice forming, it has not yet reached a safe thickness for those who enjoy ice-fishing. Hopefully, as ponds and lakes are in the process of icing up, the snow will stay away long enough to allow for a decent freeze-over, giving us at least a minimum of three to four inches of good solid ice before snow comes and puts on a covering layer. I say this because snow covering acts as an insulation and greatly slows down the thickening process for the ice. Ideally, a good freeze would remain for at least two to three weeks before any heavy snow falls upon our winter wonderland.
When ice is formed, anglers and others need to use extreme caution before stepping out upon it. Early ice formation generally provides a great time of fast ice-fishing action, but too many people take solid ice for granted. In doing so, lives are often lost every winter in the Granite State.
Whatever we do upon the ice requires us, as with most other pursuits, to use “good old common sense” and take safety precautions. Snow cover hides the actual ice conditions that lie beneath. It acts as a natural insulation which can drastically slow down the process of the ice thickening. This scenario is not only cause for alarm, but also for alertness and the use of extreme caution on the part of those who utilize the ice.
Ice-cold water and wind or bone-chilling air temperatures are unforgiving environmental elements. Any unsafe or irresponsible behavior can result in a very costly lesson for those who may unknowingly tread upon thin ice. Under sub-freezing temperatures, two or three inches of ice is considered minimal for widely spaced anglers and/or skaters. Ice that is three to four inches thick is usually sufficient to support small groups of people. Prolonged periods of freezing temperatures will produce good, solid, hard ice with sub-zero temperatures making up to an inch of ice per day. Exceptions to this would be climatic conditions, such as a warming trend, and when there is snow coverage.
Never assume that the thickness of the ice is the same throughout a lake, pond or river. Ice freezes first along the waters edges. Consequently, ice will be thinner as you approach the center of the water body. Generally, river ice is always weaker than lake or pond ice. The outside of river bends, the areas along cliffs and sunny hillsides, or the points jutting out into a river, are all potential locations of thin ice. Approach these areas with extreme caution and avoid, at all costs, areas of ice that seem dark in color or that appear “crumbly” or “honeycombed”.
Areas over reefs and around bridge abutments and in-between islands are also risky and should be avoided. A single, unbroken pressure crack in the ice is often described as, or considered to be, ‘probably safe to cross‘. But, ice-users should stay away from areas where other cracks meet or intersect. You need to test the ice thickness often as you head out to your destination, both on the river and on lakes and ponds. Doubts regarding ice thickness can be satisfied by making test holes with either an ice-chisel, hand or power-auger. It is advisable to have a minimum of six to seven inches of solid ice before operating a snowmobile or an ATV over the surface.
Unfortunately, there are still those people who think nothing of driving their car, truck or camper out on the ice. In doing so, they greatly endanger themselves, their passengers and others who are on the ice. Driving any conventional vehicle out on the ice is a foolish and very risky thing to do, mainly because of the far greater weight factors of these vehicles, compared to snowmobiles or an ATV. Every winter we read in the newspapers or hear on the news of a dozen or more conventional vehicles going through the ice of New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds, some even resulting in deaths. A congregation of vehicles puts a real hefty strain on even the most solid body of ice. Ask yourself what is your life worth? Is it really worth the danger of driving on the ice when you could walk (pulling your gear on a sled or toboggan) or use some other means of transportation, such as a snowmobile or an ATV?
Encountering pressure ridges also presents a very real danger of driving on the ice. It is here that many breakthroughs occur. The pressure ridges form when air is trapped between layers of
water and ice. As the gravitational pull of the moon changes, it causes a shift which forms the dangerous weak spots in the ice. Although pressure ridges are sometimes visible from a moving vehicle, they most often are not, especially when the surface is snow-covered. A snowmobile has a better chance of escaping a sudden encounter with a pressure ridge than does someone who is driving a conventional vehicle or even an ATV. That is because the snowmobile is a lighter and quicker machine than a conventional four-wheeled vehicle. Risk is also lessened because the operator is more likely to feel or sense the danger and therefore more likely to avoid a catastrophe. However, even with these advantages, an unknowing or careless snowmobiler can get into serious trouble on the ice.
Before riding on any frozen water, be alert about present ice conditions. If you have been drinking, do not venture out on the ice, particularly at night. Just remember to use good common sense, be responsible and to always practice ice safety and your experiences for the winter of 2012 will be wonderful.
Bob Harris can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org