George Little: hard water fishermen take care

February 01, 2014 at 05:17 AM

Hard water fishermen have enjoyed limited opportunities the past couple of winters because the ice didn’t get thick enough before it melted off entirely. That is not the case this year.

The most important thing for you to know about ice fishing is whether or not the ice is thick enough to support your weight. That little detail can make the difference between pulling bluegills out of a hole in the ice, and somebody fishing you out of the icy water.

The Army Corps of Engineers says ice that is two inches thick should support a person walking or ice-skating. Ice three inches thick ‘should’ support a snowmobile. Seven inches of ice is thick enough to drive a pickup truck across. That is yet another reason for me to borrow Buckwheat’s truck. Especially if the difference between ‘should’ and ‘will’ contains a significant margin of error. All of the Corps of Engineers ice thickness guidelines are based on people and objects moving across the ice.

In these parts, a lot of ice fishing occurs on farm ponds and in backwater where the current is slow enough for the water to freeze. The only way to know if you’re on thin ice is to drill a hole and measure it. Put on a floatation device, tie one end of a safety rope to something that won’t move like a tree or the bumper of your truck.

Tie the other end to your belt, then go out on the ice and drill a hole. Don’t jump up and down to test it. While you’re out there, look for cracks. Dry cracks haven’t gone clear through and aren’t much of a worry. If water is seeping through the cracks, the ice is cracked clear through. When you see wet cracks, multiply the safe load thickness by two. Therefore, if the ice is just two inches thick, and water is coming up through the cracks, get off it. Come back another time. On your way back to dry ground, cross the wet cracks at right angles.

Once you get a hole drilled, ice fishing is mostly jigging, sitting and waiting. People have success using grubs as well as artificial baits. Some say $10 worth of lures is all you need for a whole season of ice fishing. While that may be true, I don’t know any fisherman who would leave home with so little ammunition.

Warm clothes are essential to enjoying the ice fishing experience. Put on all the clothes you think you need then add another layer. After all, you’re going to be standing or sitting on solid ice. Pack boots are a good investment if you intend go ice fishing several times a year. It is a good strategy to dress like you would for a Green Bay Packers playoff game at Lambeau Field. For a real Cheese Head, that advice could mean jamming a yellow foam wedge on your head and sitting on the ice bare-chested with your face painted green and gold.

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