Well, Christmas came early again this year--in
the form of a fat, little guy known as Santa. He brought cold weather and
ice (for fishing) to the northern-tier counties and hopefully, for ice
anglers, at least, in other parts of the state.
How long it will last, and whether the weather
will be severe enough for the anglers’ ulterior motives, is still open
for debate. And early, at that, because it often comes with the Christmastide.
The word December 3 from the northern-tier counties
was that there may be some safe ice by next weekend. This, of course, begs
the question of what is “safe ice?”
In reality, there is no such thing as safe ice
if it breaks or otherwise leads to a dunking of an angler or other user
of the waterways. Safe ice is that simple, and that complicated.
Water characteristically changes to ice at the
surface when it reaches 32 degrees. It is warmer as it gets deeper, typical
of all waters. And yet, two impoundments of water are seldom the same,
yet very much alike when air and water temperatures are influenced by air
temperatures. Otherwise, the waters are quite different.
Another good thing to remember about water is
that shallows cool and heat faster than deep water.
This may sound confusing, but then if one considers
the fact that even the various sides of a given body of water can vary,
you run smack-dab into even more differences. A lot of this can be traced
to ground water (springs in the bottom), but air temperatures, the presence,
or lack thereof, of trees (or even what species of trees adjacent), can
be a factor. Even a cover of snow can affect the qualities and quantities
of ice. Snow, you know, is one of the best insulations. Strangely enough,
it is cold, but can be used to stay warm.
Many individuals--including many people of the
Department of Natural Resources (DNR)--speak eloquently of safe ice, and
yet they do not realize that ”what is good for the goose is not necessarily
good for the gander.” As we pointed out above, every body of water--every
impoundment--is different and influenced weatherwise and by many factors,
many elements, including ground water.
Likewise, a situation in which the conditions
look bad and evil, may, in fact, be quite safe.
For example, water on ice may look menacing when
the ice is safe. But in such a situation the angler must be ultra cautious.
I have fished a number of times with water on
the ice. As a matter of fact, some of my best catches came with such conditions.
Here a small boat can be very useful. “First and last ice are always good,”
it is said.
There are people at the DNR, and its satellite
Division of Fish an Wildlife (even some outdoor writers), spouting such
generalities as four inches of ice being safe for foot traffic, and various
other depths of ice being safe for supporting various weights. Maybe so,
but that is much akin to leaving one’s calling card in the door with a
note that says you will visit Davy Jones’ Locker on another day.
Of course, streams and rivers are a whole new
ballgame. Most of the questionable criteria involved in questionable conditions
of standing water can influence the ice on streams and rivers. But one
. . . current . . . can be really troublesome if one is not extremely cautious.
Take, for example, the case that happened to me
one frigid January day many years ago. I was wearing hip boots because
I would be in water, and walking most of the day as I took up traps that
had been set before a late winter cold spell hit to stop runoff and bring
water levels close to normal. My mission accomplished, I had headed for
home with a hunting coat bulging with steel traps. Some three miles from
home I had to cross a small stream and I had no time to spare. Darkness
was coming fast. I walked over a quiet pool but five feet from the far
bank my feet slipped and the weight of the jolt (I weighed only a shade
over 100 pounds) plunged me into the channel, which was only about four
feet deep and very cold. I could lie on my back in the snow to drain my
boots and tear the seal from half a pint of peach brandy that had gone
untouched all day. Then, I headed for home as fast as Shank’s Mare (my
legs) would take me. It was zero and well after dark when I got home, and
my dad had to help me get out of frozen trousers. But I never caught a
cold and stream currents and ice were with me forever.
So go ice fishing, or enjoy winter’s wonderland
in many other ways. But don’t just walk on ice willy-nilly . . . or you
could get wet . . . or worse.