It may be the end of February, but ice anglers are still catching fish through the ice. Some anglers are braving the winds and cold weather to still get out to the lakes one more time in search of their favorite winter time fish. With some planning and strategy, you too can get out for some fishing on the ice.
Mother Nature dealt us some unusual weather a few weeks ago, if you can remember, day time temperatures rose into the 50's a few days, and low temperatures hung around 35 degrees at night. This caused the ice to be come somewhat unstable. Today, I am going to give some good reminders, and some facts about ice fishing, which will hopefully let you enjoy this sport a few times yet this year.
First, some facts about the ice. Hickory Grove Lake is frozen up solid. This lake had a great freeze earlier in the year, and out of all the area lakes has the best ice structure available. Union Grove Lake is in great condition as well, with a solid base of ice and froze to the shoreline. The Pine Lakes are in great condition as well if you want to venture north. Then there is Rock Creek Lake, as of Sunday, the lake was approximately 20 percent open water. It had (not sure of current conditions as of press time) large areas of open water stretching all the way across the lake in several different areas, and a huge section near the dam that was open as well. Also, along the banks there was open water almost completely around the lake. There are parts of Rock Creek Lake with nine inches of great, solid ice too.
Careful planning and the willingness to follow all the safety rules of ice fishing allowed for a great day on the lake last weekend. Bluegills and crappies are hungry this time of year, but please use caution getting on and off your favorite ice fishing place.
Another fact about the ice is that the ice nearest the shoreline will be the weakest ice on the entire lake. This time of year, and into the next few weeks you will see lakes with open water around the edges. This occurs because of the ground heat, and often rocky shorelines. Both, the ground and the rocks along the shoreline heat up, and melt the ice much quicker than the middle of the lake. Another fact about the ice, the smaller the chunk of ice (or size of lake/pond), the quicker it will melt. Farm ponds will be some of the worst ice right now because of the recent warm weather. The smaller bodies of ice thaw the quickest, don't assume a farm pond will be ice fishing ready just because Hickory Grove Lake is. Another fact about ice, no ice is safe ice. You have to treat the ice like a firearm, at any moment the worst could happen, you must have a plan and take extreme caution the entire time.
I would not advise any angler to venture on the ice this weekend without the proper the safety equipment and doing some homework prior to fishing. The days of just walking out on the ice to get to your fishing spot are gone for the year. You could probably do that at Pine Lakes, Union Grove and Hickory Grove, but don't even think about it at Rock Creek in the upcoming final weeks of ice fishing. I would also not advise any angler to go on the ice the rest of the year with out the basic safety materials. First and foremost, use the buddy system. Most ice fishing related deaths occur when one person goes out fishing when they think the ice is safe. That buddy, could save your life, you better take one. Another mandatory thing is a long rope. Be sure to tie a large loop in the end of the rope so a person in need of assistance can put it under their arms and get the help they might need. Ice picks (worn around your neck) can be used to help you pull yourself out of the lake if you fall through, another must have item the rest of the year. One last thing is a life jacket or flotation device. Buddy, rope, ice picks and flotation, do not go on the ice without them the rest of the year.
Taking extreme caution and using all the safety devices described can allow you to enjoy some good ice fishing the rest of the winter. I used all of my own advice last weekend on a trip with fellow ice angler David Bowles. We took a special drive to Rock Creek on Friday to check the ice conditions and make a plan for our Sunday trip. By taking extra time to look things over and find a good access point we were able to show up with confidence and all our ice safety gear to enjoy a great time of fishing. Again, there is a lot of open water at the lake, and caution was taken with every step. We drilled many holes to check ice quality, we had all the safety equipment and had a plan if something were to go wrong. Once we made it out onto the ice, we found over eight inches of ice in all 50 holes we drilled. We knew we were as safe as we could be. However, just about 50 yards away there was open water. By creating a plan, and having all the safety gear needed in case of an emergency, our minds were left to enjoy our time on the ice catching crappies and bluegills. It was an awesome day of fishing, one of the best we have had all year long, all because of a plan put into place with safety at the top of the list.
If you venture out in the next few weeks, use extreme caution and take this update and safety equipment into mind. Most of all, remember, No ice is safe ice.