January 9, 2013 —
January usually heralds the first ice fishing activity for the region; historically, the ice is usually thick enough on most lakes by this time for people to venture out onto the ice. The milder winters of recent years, however, have been a challenge to ice fishing and other outdoor activities that take place on the ice. For most of last winter, the ice was too thin to safely be on the ice on most lakes.
So how much ice is safe enough? There is some variance depending on weight loading and the ice condition, but the general rule of thumb is a minimum of four inches of hard, clear ice to support a single person. One of the problems that arise is that just because the ice is thick at one part of a lake doesn’t mean it is that thick at another part of the lake. Most ice fisherman carry gear and an ATV to haul it, and many fishermen partner up with one or more others; the four inches should be doubled or tripled depending on the weight of your equipment or entourage.
A few years ago, a local fire department was dispatched to a lake where a vehicle was on the ice of a local lake and had broken through. Luckily for the joy-riding driver, he was able to escape out the window as his sub-compact settled on the shallow lake bottom and left the windows above the ice level.
The ice on most of the lake that day was over a foot thick (thick enough for a truck), but he picked a spot near the lake inlet to drive on the ice; inlets and other areas of flowing water are danger areas due to the ice being a lot thinner. Many lakes have regulations concerning motorized vehicles of any type; check before you go.
I mentioned flowing water as a danger, but there are parts of the Delaware River that are ice fished, mostly flat-water areas where walleye congregate; it’s a good idea to obtain local knowledge before doing this for the first time. Ice fishing safety and other good tips can be found by contacting state agencies via their outreach resources. There are also many information sources online, an example can be found at www.lake-link.com/icefishing/IceFishingSafety.cfm .