It’s all fun and games until you or one of your fellow anglers experiences a near fatal situation. Only then will you wake you and realize how serious this could have been.
Many ice anglers become complacent on the ice because for years they have been wise enough to not put themselves in a precarious position. Sometimes when indications suggest the status is safe, it doesn’t mean things can’t change for the worse.
Recalling a situation years back at Aurora Reservoir, where ice conditions seemed safe. A two-inch layer of snow topped the ice-covered lake, making it ideal for walking and with solid ice all the way up to the shore; it was easy access for a day on the ice.
The reservoir was littered with ice anglers and the sound of power augers filled the air. Another great day of ice fishing was in the works! A fishing buddy of mine had brought his 5-year old boy, anticipating a memorable experience to share, since it was his first time ice fishing with him.
A memorial day we did have, catching larger than average rainbow trout on ice flies and wax worms. The weather was beautiful throughout the day with temperatures in the high 60’s. The sun was blazing with very little wind making it comfortable enough to spend the day fishing with a single layer of clothing. What more can you ask for!
As we caught our limit for the day, feeling satisfied and content with the days catch. We decided to rap it up for the day and began working our way back to shore.
Little did we realize that our great day on the ice could turn into such a nightmare? Looking at the shoreline from a distance we could see that the ice had melted from shore and had receded far enough that we knew we were in a precarious situation, especially since we had a child with us, not to mention two sleds full of equipment.
As we stood there scratching our heads, we estimated approximately twenty feet of open water to negotiate. We went back to our topographic map looking for other places in the area to get off the ice and where areas would be the shallowest, but found other locations to be worse.
From the edge of the ice, we used our portable fishfinder to give us a depth reading. It locked in at a depth of 12 ft and was dropping off fast. We figured if we made a run for it and jumped, the first 7 ft from the ice edge would be above our heads, but the rest of the way would be shallow enough to touch bottom where we could simply walk out. At any rate, we knew we were getting wet.
Our concerns primarily were to get the child back to shore safely. We could always put together a game plan to retrieve our gear at a later time.
However, after further discussion the plan was that my fishing buddy would tie together the two sleds single file and make a run for it. In addition, after recovering our gear he would walk back into the water as far as he could go and I would toss the child to him. I would then make a run for it and jump in as well.
With my fishing buddy in full stride, he managed to leap past the deep drop off that would have lead him into the abyss, but luckily he landed on enough lake-bottom to keep his head above water and continued to stomp out by foot.
The two ice sleds followed in suit like a pair of run away boats and almost made it back to shore before sinking. The sleds were then dragged out of the water the rest of the way.
Now it came time for the child to be extracted. I had tied a safety line around the boy should the plan go south and went through the thought process in my head of this plan. Needless to say, I was not fully convinced this was the master plan we could rely on.
But we had planned for the worse and were hoping for the best. The boy and I positioned our selves on the edge of the ice, while waiting for his father to come back into the icy water.
The safety line was thrown to shore and now it was the moment of truth. Generating enough energy to sling a 50lbs boy a distance of 6ft or more could prove to be quite challenging especially when you don’t have good footing.
Interesting enough, we had another problem that was totally unexpected and was the deal breaker in the plan. While lifting the boy up, the edge of the ice suddenly snapped off underfoot and away we went into the freezing water.
It all seemed like slow motion at first until rescue and survival mode kicked in. I quickly grabbed the boy and the safety line and was immediately pulled to a depth where we could stand up. We walked out of the icy water the rest of the way colder than all get out, but thankful we had thought of using a safety line.
The point is that just because ice fishing conditions and temperatures seem ideal, it doesn’t mean things can’t change for the worse. Initial conditions can be misleading and can develop in to unpredictable situations.
Be aware of local ice conditions in elevations less than 7000 ft. with ice less than 6 inches thick. Lakes and reservoirs at this altitude typically melt quicker during the day and don’t freeze back up as well as the high mountain waters due to warmer temperatures.