Fishing on Thin Ice

Saturday morning a friend was heading out ice fishing, and I decided to go along. Last winter I don’t know if I got out on the ice a single time, so I wanted to be sure to take the opportunity when I could.

It’s the earliest in the year I’ve ever been ice fishing, and it was definitely a new experience. Over time, I’ve come to see that there are definite types of ice fishing. Early on, the ponds are generally clear of snow, so you can ice skate and play around a fair bit on the ice. Later, snow covers the ice, and it feels more like you’re just standing on solid ground. Still later, a layer of slush can develop underneath the snow but above the ice, and walking across it and standing in it can be miserable.

The early days of an ice fishing season are the best, I think. Plus, the ice is thinner, so it’s easier to carve a hole through it.

We’ve had some really cold temperatures at night the last week or so, so I didn’t think the ice would be too unsafe. My friend’s the expert, though, so I let him go first. 🙂 He had brought a long handled chisel, and we’d walk across the pond for a while, and then he’d chisel at the ice to see how thick it was. One inch of ice can hold 100 pounds of weight. Two inches can hold 400 pounds. The first place we checked was about four inches. The second place was around three.

The ice is different colors, typically because it froze at different times. You’d have one cold night where a bunch of it froze, then the rest froze a night or two later. So as you’re walking along, you want to check the thickness in each color. Not to mention the fact that sometimes it will snow. Walking across snow-covered ice can be quite dangerous early in the season. The snow acts like a blanket, insulating the ice and keeping it from getting thicker.

We avoided the snow-covered areas as long as we could, but we wanted to get to a spot across the pond, and there was a strip of snow between us and it. My friend headed out a bit into it and struck down at it with his chisel.

It went through in a single blow, causing a sound to streak across the ice around us, as if a giant guitar string had just snapped. We both froze, and he said, “This is probably too thin.” Master of the understatement. He started to walk back toward me, and as he walked, his feet crunched through the ice’s surface. Apparently ice can also freeze in layers, however. He was breaking through the top layer, but the next layer was holding firm.

I turned to hurry off as well, and the same thing started happening to me. It’s a bad feeling, walking across ice that’s breaking with each step you take, knowing that there’s a whole ton of cold water below you. I was definitely glad I’d been on a diet at that moment. We were back to firmer ice in about ten yards, neither of us ever falling in, thankfully.

I asked my friend after the fact how close he thought we’d been to actually going in. He said typically the whole sheet of ice begins to sag before you actually break through. That hadn’t happened to us. When it does, you start to shuffle your feet as fast as you can and just hope for the best. It’s not usually like in the movies, where people are just cavorting on the ice and suddenly drop through it.

In any case, that’s about the most exciting time I’ve ever had ice fishing. Certainly had my blood pumping. After that, we ended up fishing closer to shore. I didn’t get so much as a nibble, but my friend and his daughter caught three between them, and they generously let me take one home for Denisa. I love to fish, but I’m not a fan of actually eating what I catch. I mainly like to get out of the house and enjoy the outside.

Preferably dry.

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