This is the season when ice conditions change dramatically. After a winter of mixed temperatures and precipitation, the ice tends to be in layers. You will feel these layers when you drill a hole. Some layers are slushy, others hard, and some are just frozen compressed snow layers. The early season clear hard ice is rare.
You will also discover moving pressure ridges and thin, sloppy ice near the shore. The lake ice might be solid just a few yards out but getting there is a challenge. This is also true with Pressure ridges.
The other day, I noticed 2×6 boards on the ice. Wheelers were using them to cross a pressure ridge. You could see where one wheeler slid off the board and had to be winched out. These ridges change with currents, winds, and temperature. The place you crossed in the morning, may not be safe later in the day. If a wind whips the snow or you have a white out, you could end up in the cold drink.
Make sure that you put safety first. We have lost several icemen this season. Always carry a throw bag or jug. You can make a Jug using an old plastic milk container. Tie a rope to the handle and slide 20-30 yards of the rope into the jug. Tie a handle on the other end. To deploy the safety jug, wrap the rope loop around your hand and throw the jug toward the victim. Practice a few times to get the hang of it.
You also need to wear a pair of ice handles or picks. These picks will help you to drag your wet butt onto the ice if you go in. You can buy a set or make your own. Time is important when you get wet, so wear the picks around your neck, just where you need them. Lay flat and kick your legs. Now use the picks to stab the ice and pull yourself out.
Wearing floatation bibs and parkas are also a good idea. Once in the cold, freezing wet, you have only moments to get out before your body shuts down and hypothermia sets in.
Normally, if you are prepared, you will never need these but…
No fish is worth dying over.
For more Montana Grant, find him high and dry at www.montanagrantfishing.com.