Pa. Fish and Boat Commission advises caution for ice anglers
There may not be ice on local waters for fishing yet, but the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Glade Swiftwater Rescue Team are hoping anglers will take care when there is.
“Ice fishing is a great, inexpensive way to get outdoors in the winter and can produce both large numbers of fish and larger individual fish,” PFBC Deputy Director for Field Operations Andy Shiels said. “It can be an escape for anglers seeking peace and quiet, or it can turn into a real social event. Often, friends and family will gather in groups to ice fish, tell stories and eat food in a tailgate-type setting.”
It can turn dangerous for those who don’t take some precautions.
Glade Volunteer Fire Department Water Rescue Captain Erik Krantz said ice thickness can be variable, so taking one measurement that is considered a safe thickness is not necessarily enough.
“The absolute minimum for safe ice, for a person to walk on, is four inches,” Krantz said. “To be safe I would highly recommend five. This provides a stable ice shelf, and allows for some variation of thickness in the ice shelf, as a whole.”
Some people choose to take vehicles out on the ice — something that Krantz does not recommend. That requires more ice.
“A snowmobile or ATV can be supported at a range of six inches at minimum,” Krantz said. “While we do not recommend driving a vehicle on the ice, the absolute minimum would be eight inches, however if you do decide to do this, we would recommend no less than 10. Again this allows for stability should thickness variation be present.”
According to PFBC, “While ice fishing can be a fun and rewarding activity for people of all ages, every venture out onto the ice should begin by following several safety steps:
¯ Always wear a life jacket or float coat while on the ice. Avoid inflatable life jackets, which do not perform well in freezing temperatures;
¯ When arriving at the water’s edge, visually survey the ice. Look for open water areas and signs of recent changes in water levels. Ice sloping down from the bank can indicate a recent drop in water level, while wet areas on the ice can indicate a rise in water level;
¯ Listen for loud cracks or booms coming from the ice. This can be an indicator of deteriorating ice;
¯ Look for new ice, which is clear or has a blue tint. New ice is stronger than old ice, which can appear white or gray;
¯ Remember that ice thickness is not consistent across the surface of the lake or pond;
¯ Beware of ice around partially submerged objects such as trees, brush, embankments or structures. Ice will not form as quickly where water is shallow or where objects may absorb heat from sunlight;
¯ Anglers should use an ice staff to probe ahead as they walk. If the ice staff punches through, retreat to shore slowly;
¯ Always carry a pair of ice awls, which are handheld spikes. Ice awls can assist in performing a self-rescue, in which the spikes are driven into the ice to help someone pull themselves out of the water;
¯ Never walk on ice that has formed over moving water such as a river or stream;
¯ Never go out on ice alone;
¯ Always let someone know your plans and when you expect to return.”
Krantz added a check for rotten ice to the list of precautions presented by PFBC.
“Rotten ice has the appearance of a pitted surface often accompanied by some water resting on the surface of the ice,” he said. “The ice may appear to be thick, but if you see pits in the surface, the ice is definitely not safe.”