"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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What Is Safe Ice?
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

Well, it happened. And just about on schedule.

The antiquated rule of thumb decrees that the ice man comes to northern tier counties in Indiana about the time Santa arrives. 

The brave, dyed-in-the-wool ice fishermen, spudded in on channels of larger lakes in the northeastern part of the state last Saturday. Moreover, they (ice-fishing enthusiasts who can’t wait to get started) were making good hauls of bluegills, and a few crappies. Best bets for bait were mousies, bee moth larva (wax worms), and spikes (the larval stage of a fly).

This is the word from Larry Stover, owner/operator of Ye Olde Tackle Box at North Webster.

Larry says there was a little more than an inch of ice on channels of the larger lakes of the area on Sunday (December 19), and that weather that night was ideal for natural ice making--air temperatures of low two-digits and practically no wind.

With temperatures of the next few days expected to be even colder, “safe” ice is expected to work its way out onto the open water of many lakes in the next week or so to broaden the scope of hard-water angling to yellow (ring) perch and other species that like deeper water.

Air temperatures in the central part of the state were much the same but we have noticed nothing more than skim ice on standing waters of this area. So central and southern icers, in the name of safety, must bide their time to get in the act.

Cautioning outdoors folks on the dangers of ice fishing is a little like telling deer hunters that deer stands can be dangerous. We all nod affirmatively and tell ourselves that this is worth some attention if we want to observe a few more birthdays. Still, we venture onto unsafe ice and we still take dunkings.

It all begs the question: What is safe ice?

Some will tell you that ice four inches thick is safe for ice fishing As noted above, anglers were fishing last Saturday on ice that was little more tan an inc thick on channels of big lakes in northeastern Indiana. Shallow-water of channels ices up before greater expanses of deep water. I have fished on swayback ice covered with water that was little more than an inch thick over water that was shallow.

In reality, there are so many factors involved in determining what is safe ice and what is not, that the wise angler considers all ice dangerous. Furthermore, the angler (or anglers) should have a plan that will make it possible to get out if necessary.

I have fished solo many times over the years, and I have come up with a plan (and inexpensive equipment) that makes sense. I use a safety line that is no more complicated than 200 feet or so of strong rope and a two-foot piece of broomstick, or some other wood. A strong limb will do the job.

One end of the line is tied to a solid object on the shore and the other end is tied around my waist. If I am too far from shore for the rope to reach a solid object, I tie one end of the rope to the broomstick and put it crosswise in a hole spudded into strong ice near the shore.

There have, of course, been many “tools” on the market that are designed to help dunked anglers get back on the ice. They may work. Anything is better than nothing.

But from this catbird seat, it would seem that in the final analysis safe ice is not measured by its depth, but rather by the depth of caution (and a healthy respect for the dangers of ice fishing) in the angler.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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