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No ice is safe ice

November 26, 2010
by Matt Heinrichs - Outdoor Columnist

It won't be long now boys and girls.

Hard water season is upon us!

The recent cold weather has dropped the temperatures of our local lakes dramatically over the past week.

Ice is already starting to form around the Iowa Great Lakes region. Hales slough, Trickles slough, the grade and the Templar Park lagoon are all holding nearly two inches as I write this column.

However, as stoked as we ice-aholics may be about finally digging out our augers, it is important to tread cautiously, especially at the start of the season.

Early ice presents some of the best fishing of the hard water season. The fish really go into feed mode and start to stack up in their winter zones, allowing fishermen who get on top of these "honey-holes" to do quite a bit of damage in a short amount of time.

Shallow bays that are sheltered from the wind are generally the first places to grow sufficient ice cover for fishing.

The most important thing for early ice fishing is safety. Be sure to carry these items with you during early ice season:

Spud bar: A long metal, or metal-tipped wood pole can be used to probe unsure areas of ice, and can also be used as a walking stick when traveling on slick areas.

Life jacket: They aren't just for summer anymore. By wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) underneath a coat or overalls, personal buoyancy is increased, keeping the head and shoulders above water. This is especially important as cold water shocks the system. When a person hits such cold water, a loss of breath often occurs, with less air in the lungs, the body is less apt to float. The added buoyancy of a PFD also aids in escape.

Safety spikes: There are many types of safety spikes, designed to give traction to an ice adventurer, should they break through. Pairs can be bought at almost any department store. However, some of the best safety spikes can be made at home with wooden dowels and nails. By putting a nail into one-inch diameter dowels that fit into your hands, you have created a floating tool that could very well save your life. Connect the two dowels with eye-hooks and a durable cord to have them comfortably hang around your neck to be used at a moment's notice.

Dry clothes: Keep a spare sweatshirt and some old jeans in your vehicle along with some dry wool socks. The faster you can get your body dry, the less chance you have of suffering from hypothermia. Water transfers heat 25 times faster than air. Therefore getting dry is the primary goal after being submerged in near-freezing lake water.

Another good idea is to use the "Buddy System" when braving the early ice. Never hit the thin ice alone. Carry a 50-foot piece of rope to use as a tether, or tie a block of wood to one end so it can be effectively thrown out and floated to a person who is struggling in the water.

Keep safety your number one priority when out on the ice this season and remember, no ice is safe ice!



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