|This winter continues to be the “winter that wasn’t,” but of course it’s too early to say how the weather is going to be next week, next month or even tomorrow. I’ve heard everything from, “This is great,” to “I wish it would snow,” which, I suppose, proves once again that you can’t please everyone no matter what you do!
Normally, at this time of year people have been driving on the ice as they set up for a day of fishing, but there have been many reports of people going through the ice while walking, and at least one case of a cross-country skier taking a plunge over in the Rangeley Region. This is not good news at all, and it’s likely that we’ll see additional accidents (alas, and fatalities) as winter wears on snow or not.
Luckily, avid outdoorsmen do not need to sit inside and fret. While it’s not recommended that you try to fish the big lakes for salmon, trout or togue, it’s possible that some of the smaller ponds will have enough ice for a fishing trip or two. I can’t recall a year in which there was no place to fish no matter how balmy the weather. But, due to the season’s unusually warm temperatures, The Maine Warden Service is urging people to use extreme caution before venturing out onto any ice covering Maine’s waterways.
Many of Maine’s lakes and ponds do not have any ice cover, but smaller ponds and waterways in central and northern Maine do have enough ice to accommodate a day of fishing. Ice conditions vary greatly throughout the state, however, and while ice conditions may be safe in some spots, it can be very dangerous in others. The Maine Warden Service is recommending that people check the thickness of any ice before venturing out for any activity on frozen water.
If you plan to go onto the ice, the Maine Warden Service offers these tips for ice safety:
Never guess the thickness of the ice, check the ice in several places using an auger or some other means to make a test hole and accurately determine its thickness. Make several holes beginning near the shore and at intervals of 10 or 15 feet as you go out.
Check the ice with a partner so if something does happen, help will be nearby. If you are checking the ice alone, wear a lifejacket.
If ice at the shoreline is cracked or soft, stay away! Also, beware of thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.
Avoid areas that normally have currents such as under and around bridges, and avoid walking or fishing near pressure ridges. Wind and currents can break and move large blocks of ice in a matter of minutes.
If you do break through the ice, don’t panic. Also, don’t try to climb out immediately because you will probably break the ice again. Instead, keep your composure and reach for solid ice. Lay both arms on unbroken ice and kick hard with your feet to help lift your body onto the ice. Once you are back on safe ice, roll, and don’t walk, to safety.
To help someone who has fallen through the ice, lie down flat and reach out to the victim with a branch, plank or rope; or form a human chain. Don’t stand upright, especially near broken ice, as doing so concentrates your body weight in a potentially weak spot. After securing the victim, wiggle backward to solid ice. Any victim of a through-the-ice event should be immediately taken to a warm environment where they should be given warm clothing or wrapped in blankets. Most such victims should be transported to the local hospital for treatment for hypothermia. Small amounts of warm liquids may be administered (not alcohol or coffee!) until the victim fully recovers.
I have been through the ice a couple of times and I can attest that it’s an interesting and thoroughly educational experience. The first time I was on thin ice cutting holes for fishing and fell completely through the ice and was literally standing on the bottom (in about 8 feet of water) looking up at the hole I’d just made. Fortunately, I was buoyant enough to almost instantly pop to the surface. I beat my way through the ice to shore, hopped on my bicycle and rode about four miles home a truly chilling episode!
Another time I went through the ice at St. Albans WMA in Newport and, luckily, never hit the water. The ice had formed early and the water had gone out of the pond, so I fell through to the ground about 6 feet below. It was amazingly silent, still and eerie down there, with ice for a ceiling and nothing but heavily frosted cattails around me. The ground was bare and rocky, but aside from a few bruises I wasn’t injured.
I once went through the ice on Alder Stream in Atkinson, too, but that was an unusual situation. I was beaver trapping and had just checked a set when water began pouring out onto the ice. I slipped and was literally washed down the ice-covered stream for about 50 feet, and then I broke through at a place where several downed trees had washed up under the bank. The water was only knee deep but, unfortunately, I was lying down at the time, so for a few moments I was covered with ice-cold stream water! I staggered to my feet and managed to get back to my truck before my snowmobile suit froze solid, but from then on I carried a steel-pointed pole for all my trapline chores. I don’t mind having outdoor accidents as long as I survive them, but you can only be so lucky!
No matter how safe the ice looks to you, take the time to call the local sheriff, game warden or fisheries biologist for an update on ice conditions on any given day. In just a few weeks winter is going to start winding down again, and that means more unsafe conditions do the sensible thing and check first!