The ice fishing season barely has begun in these latitudes, but the warning flags already are flying over dangerous and deadly moves by fishermen.
At midweek local fire and law enforcement authorities, backed up by a coast guard helicopter from Detroit, ordered three fishermen off ice near Catawba State Park on western Lake Erie northeast of Port Clinton because of erratic ice conditions. The men, who were unidentified, returned to shore safely with their gear, but the season had recorded its first ice fishing incident.
Last weekend three men died in separate incidents on two northern Indiana lakes. Two died Sunday evening when their snowmobiles broke through ice on Sylvan Lake, and a third man died Saturday when his ice boat overturned, broke through the ice and entered the waters of Lake Maxinkuckee, authorities said.
As a result, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has issued is annual warnings about exercising extreme caution when venturing out, the golden rule for which is there is no such thing as safe ice.
The department has surveyed various information resources and offers the following ice safety tips, with additional advice available at ohiodnr.com.
t Always remember that ice-covered water is never completely safe.
t Anyone new to ice fishing, or interested in learning how to safely ice fish, should seek out a licensed ice-fishing guide. A list of certified guides is available at ohiodnr.com or by calling the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Sandusky office at 419-625-8062. In addition, inquire at local bait shops about areas of potentially thin or dangerous ice.
t Always fish with friends, and inform others about when you will be on the ice, where and when you will return.
t If possible, take with you a cell-phone sealed in a plastic bag.
t Wear a coast guard-approved life jacket or float coat. Life vests provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia.
t Use safe alternatives to local streams or lakes for skating or sledding. For example, Dillon State Park in Muskingum County offers free access to a designated ice-skating area. Check with local, state or metropark about where conditions are suitable for skating.
t Know that wind-chill factors are relative thermal guides. Although a thermometer may read 40 degrees, a wind speed of 20 miles per hour can cause a body to lose heat as if the temperature were actually 18 degrees.
t Carry two ice picks, screwdrivers or large nails to create leverage for pulling yourself out of the water. Secure them onto the ends of a strong cord and drape the cord around the neck of your outerwear for instant access. They are much more effective than bare hands for self-rescue. Also, carry a whistle or other noisemaker to alert others if you are in distress.
t Dress in layers and add extra clothing for the head, neck, sides and groin, which are the primary heat-loss areas. Wool and modern synthetics are good fabric choices for clothing. Cotton is slow to dry.
t Keep an extra set of clothes in your car - or along with your gear sled - sealed in a plastic bag, in case you do need dry clothing.
t Avoid alcoholic beverages. In addition to reducing reaction times, alcohol lowers your internal temperature and increases the chances of suffering hypothermia.
t Never drive a vehicle, snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle onto ice. Leave this to professional guides. Doing so is extremely dangerous, and most insurance policies will not cover the vehicles of ice fishermen that have dropped through the ice.
The Midwest Open Ice Fishing Tournament is set for Feb. 1 at Devils Lake near Brooklyn, Mich., in the Irish Hills. A rules meeting is set for Jan. 31.
Individual cash prizes and trophies will be awarded for the biggest crappie and biggest bluegill. The first-place payout is $10,000.
For an entry form and other details, contact Knutson's Recreational Sales, 164 Wamplers Lake Rd., Brooklyn,. Mich., 49230, or call the store at 517-592-2786.
Toll-free numbers include 800-292-0857 in Michigan and 800-248-9318 outside Michigan. Information also is available at naifc.com.