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Ice fishing safety tips

By DICK MARTIN • Dec 29, 2018 at 8:00 AM

The weather has been cold recently, which mean many ice anglers are fingering their rods and equipment boxes and starting to make plans as soon as the ice is safe for walking.

Why do they do that?

Because winter ice fishing, according to statistics, is the most productive time of year to make a good catch, and fish taken from ice water are as tasty as they’ll ever be.

But there’s little question that ice fishing is the most dangerous sport you’re likely to find in Ohio, more dangerous than hunting during the deer gun season, and it’s wise to take some basic precautions before you step on frozen water. I still remember vividly an event that happened long years ago. I had gone fishing with a Lake Erie ice guide many times, a good man who was excellent at his craft. I stayed at his house often, knew his wife and youngsters, and liked him a lot. One night he was out after dark, apparently decided to take a short cut over Lake Erie ice to reach home, and his snowmobile went through in a thin spot. Searchers said they found hand prints all around the hole where he’d tried to climb out, but there was no hope. It still gives me nightmares.

Did I stop ice fishing? Of course not, but the event made me even more cautious than usual during the dozens of trips I’ve made since then on Ohio lakes and farm ponds, in Michigan, and elsewhere. For example, I never step on winter ice without walking out just a few feet, boring a hole with my ice auger, and checking the depth of the ice. If it’s three to four inches I turn around and go home. If it’s five, I still might do so, and I’m not really comfortable unless there’s at least six inches, hopefully more, of clear, clean ice.

I often fish farm ponds alone, and when that’s the case, I haul along 100 feet of sturdy rope in my ice sled. I’ll tie one end to a shoreline tree or shrub and the other around my waist. Do I sound like a sissy? Maybe so, but any lake or pond can have thin spots where springs bubble up from below or tributaries run into the main lake and thin the ice underneath. It’s a lot easier to pull out when you’ve a good rope to give you hand holds on wet, slippery ice. Even when fishing with friends I carry the rope along with a loop at each end in case someone else gets in trouble and needs a helping hand.

One of the smartest moves any ice angler can make is to carry two screwdrivers in a shirt pocket. If you go through, it’s the work of a second to pull them out and jab them into the ice for a firm handhold. What do you do if a friend goes through? You get him to a warm car as soon as possible, strip him off, towel him dry if you have such, and give him your coat and pants too, before placing him in front of a car or truck heater turned on high, and beeline to the nearest hospital. Just to be sure.

Given those basic precautions, ice fishing can be a safe and productive sport. I’ve never let it stop me yet, and probably never will. But do remember — a half dozen walleye or 20 to 30 bluegills and crappie aren’t worth your life. There’ll be other days.

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• Hunters harvested 1,117 wild turkey during Ohio's 2018 fall turkey season, up slightly from last years harvest of 1,062 gobblers and hens. The fall season was open in 70 counties from Oct. 13 through Nov. 25. Three more counties were open to fall turikey hunting for the first time. This year Coshocton hunters did best with 52 birds in the freezerfollowed by Guernsey with 41, then Tuscarawas with 40, Ashtabula - 39, and Geauga - 34. How did Huron County hunters do? Not bad at all. They bagged 30 birds.

• Ever hear of the Land and Water Conservation Fund? It's likely that most people haven't. But according to their recent news release, the LWCF is doing good work in every corner of Ohio. It said they have funded projects in almost every county, helped protect places like our only national forest, the Wayne National Forest, significant historic sites, even funded hunting and viewing opportunities in various places. But they need money to continue and you can Google up the organization and send what you can. It's sure to help.

• An e-mail from a reader had a good suggestion for successful deer hunters. He said that most hunters have their deer ribs stripped for deerburger meat, but those ribs have a better use. He cuts them off the deer after trimming as much fat as possible, pressure cooks pieces for half an hour, lets them air dry, then grills them on a smoky charcoal grill and applies barbecue sauce. "They are fall off the bone delicious," he said.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You also can visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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