January 30, 2003

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

I don't consider myself an overly-brave person but when I look back on Wednesday night I kind of wonder what I was thinking. I suppose I simply was overcome by my desire to go ice fishing, but with all things considered I guess it wasn't the wisest decision I had ever made. But then again, everything was fine, I had no problems and I even got some fish for supper that night.

However, the day started off with reports of a farmer loosing several calves in a pond where the ice broke. No fewer than three fisherman or trappers had also reported breaking through the ice or falling in, so needless to say the ice condition was a bit in question. You wouldn't think that snow is a good insulator, but when you get a few inches on top of the frozen ponds, it can cause problems. Especially when it warms up a bit like it did over the weekend. Melting snow creates more problems, not only for the ice, but for the fisherman as well. That's when it gets a little scary. No one likes to walk out 20-feet from the bank with water halfway up their boots. But if you're serious about fishing you keep telling yourself that the ice is fine and there is nothing to worry about. It was four inches thick just two days ago, and it hasn't been warm enough to hurt that ice. Of course some people need a little more reassuring than others.

Anyway when Wednesday rolled around, I was chomping at the bit to get back on the ice. I had fished Saturday and Sunday and was ready for some more (even though I never had a bite Sunday). But after hearing the stories of bad ice I became a little timid. You're always better off to take a partner, that way if you fall in they can throw you a rope or call for the lifeguard. But I struck out as all my fishing buddies were actually working at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Oh well, I was going to be right below the farm house, I'd just stop in and ask the owner to peek out the window every so often and make sure I was on the right side of the ice. But he wasn't home (he was on the tractor working too).

So there I was sitting in my pickup with all my gear at my fingertips trying to decide what to do. Ultimately my fishing lust won over and I tip-toed across the pond and drilled my first hole. There wasn't a wet spot on the pond as this particular body of water still was totally covered with un-melted snow. I never realized how hard it is to run a manual ice-auger when you have all your bodyweight leaning the other way ready to run for the shore at the first sound of trouble. So I had a bit of a problem getting the first hole dug, it was either that or the fact that there was nearly five inches of perfectly conditioned ice underneath me.

If I hadn't known how much my wife was looking forward to eating those fish, I would have guessed that she had put out the false information about the ice in order to keep me home working on her honey-do list instead of fishing. I don't doubt there are some ponds with ice issues, but I feel comfortable saying there are plenty like this one that are safe as can be. But then again it never hurts to be safe. Of course with the below zero temperatures the past couple days we shouldn't have to worry about bad ice. Of course this is Missouri and they are forecasting spring like conditions by the first part of the week, so we me may be right back in the same boat (which some people do actually sit in on top of the ice when they are unsure of the conditions.) UPDATE - Sunday, January 26, there was now six inches of ice on the same pond and it was cracking and popping all day as the cold temperatures were expanding the surface below me making even more ice.

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