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Is the ice safe?

I need some help solving a poaching case. During the second week of December some poachers shot an elk off of Colburn Culver Rd in a private field at approximately 10:30 pm. Not only was that behavior illegal, it was extremely unsafe. The shots were fired in the direction of occupied houses. Most sportsmen I talked with are sickened by this act and so am I. Please help me catch these punks. A handsome reward is yours if the information leads to an arrest. You can call me directly, or call our Citizens Against Poaching Hotline at 1-800-632-5999. As always, callers will remain 100 percent anonymous.

For once I’m thankful I’m stuck inside as I type this article.  The wind is howling and the thermometer is struggling to go upwards.  I thought I might sneak out and try to take advantage of the late elk archery season, but I feel sorry for the critters. I’m going to stay hunkered down and give them, and myself, a break.

When the weather turns cold I usually start getting phone calls asking if the “ice is safe.” Well, I don’t know about you but I was brought up that the ice is never safe. It was a good rule to live by but it’s a little dramatic because our actions on the ice determine our safety more than the thickness. North Idaho ice is a different beast, and requires some special attention.  Here are some good rules to follow when heading out to ice fish.

A lot of people ask how thick the ice has to be before they can walk out on it. There are a few general measurements to follow. Please remember this is for new, clear ice!

2” or less – stay off!

4” – Foot travel only – single file

5” - Snowmobile or ATV

8” - 12” - Car or small pickup

12” - 15” - Medium truck

This is a general guideline and there are many exceptions that can cause what appears to be safe ice to be extremely dangerous. It’s up to you to determine the quality and quantity of ice. North Idaho’s ice does not compare to the Midwest states for quality of ice. Every year I see folks drive their ATVs out on the ice and inevitability they are from Minnesota or Wisconsin. I really don’t recommend driving any type of vehicle on the ice here, especially on Lake Pend Oreille. The ice here is very inconstant due to many factors.

The big factors that influence ice thickness are wind and current. If you are fishing bays on the big lake look for signs of ice stacking from high winds. Wind can make for extremely uneven ice. Ice will form further out on the lake and blow in toward shore in sheets. The ice will stack on top of one another or even worse yet, the frozen chucks that floated in will freeze together in an uneven mess. This produces thick ice with weak thin ice connecting the chucks. Current from various sources such as underground springs, culverts, and creek outlets can erode the underside of the ice. If you are unaware of the location of these potential hazards it could make for a wet, cold day.

So what do you do if you break through the ice? Well, there are a few things you can do before you even head out on the ice that will increase your survival chances.

Leave your fishing plans with someone—where you’ll be and when you’ll return.

Don’t fish alone, stay near the crowd or take a buddy.

Ice conditions can vary dramatically; carry an ice spud or chisel to check thickness.

Be extremely cautious when crossing ice near culverts, springs, and creeks.

Be cautious of the ice after or during a high wind event.

Avoid getting on the ice if it has melted away from the shore.

Leave your vehicles at the shore and travel by foot.

Wear wool clothes that won’t rob your heat if you’re wet.

Carry hand spikes so you can pull yourself out of the water, back on to the ice.

Carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone that has fallen through.

Take your cell phone.

If you do fall through the ice, remain calm! Panicked minds tend to revert to instinct and instinct is not always the best option. Keep all clothing on as it can trap air and keep you afloat. Turn toward where you came from and begin to kick while using your hand spikes to pull yourself onto the ice shelf. Stay on your belly and slither toward safer ice; this will spread your weight out and prevent further breakage. Call for help immediately, as hypothermia will begin to set in.

Stay safe and warm out on the ice this year. Don’t forget to purchase a 2009 fishing license, keep your holes in the ice no more than 10 inches in diameter, and please pick up after yourself. As always, grab the kids for some quality bonding time on the ice. There’s nothing like seeing a young angler crack a smile as they pull in their first fish through the ice.

LEAVE NO CHILD INSIDE but please, bundle them up!

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Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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