NEW FRANKLIN, Ohio – It's a cold, hard fact about frozen water.
There is no such thing as safe ice -- only degrees of good and bad.
The frigid temperatures of the past month have been great for developing a good base on Ohio's inland lakes.
Phil Hillman, fisheries management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, says to exercise caution.
"The decision to go on a frozen lake is up to the individual, whether it's to fish, skate, cross country ski, it doesn't matter. You need to stay safe," he said.
The Division of Wildlife recommends a minimum of four inches of good, clear ice before heading out on frozen lakes or ponds.
If ice is cloudy, that means there are air bubbles present, and that weakens it.
Cold, windless nights are the best for ice formation.
Snow on top of ice insulates it, slowing down the freezing process.
The worst enemy of ice is rain. It can turn the snow on top to slush, adding huge amounts of weight to the frozen surface.
The best weapon available to stay safe on ice is your brain.
"People need to use their heads," says Hillman, who is also an avid fisherman. "No fish is worth losing your life over, so, if high temperatures in the 50s are forecast, stay off the ice, especially this early in the season. It's just not worth it."
But, as many know, ice fishermen are cut from a different cloth, and the lure of walking on water sometimes gets the best of us.
Seventy-five-year-old ice angler Dick Bassett has decades of experience on the ice.
Unfortunately, he has experience going through it as well.
"We've been out on two, two and a half inches," said Bassett. "I've been through four times. The last was right here at Portage Lakes last season. I was fishing and walking on an area all morning. When I was packing up to leave about noon, I went to get my tip-up, and there I went."
Luckily, he had friends there to help pull him from the ice. Bassett says he was wearing his safety spikes on a lanyard around his neck, but didn't think about them.
"My buddy lay down on the ice and grabbed my hands, and his buddy grabbed his feet and pulled me out," he said.
Ice needs to be respected. Heading out on a frozen lake can give you experiences you've never imagined, but it's worth it to take precautions and carry some safety gear.
Here are a few items that could save your life or someone else's if your day on the ice goes bad.
- Make a plan. Let someone know where you'll be and when to expect you home.
- Go with a friend or to a place where people are already on the ice. Safety is in numbers.
- Take your cell phone and keep it in a Ziploc baggie. If you or someone around you goes in, call for help.
- Wear your PFD (lifejacket). It will add a layer of warmth and keep you floating if you go in.
- Purchase or make a set of ice spikes. Two small screwdrivers tied to an arm's length of rope can be carried around your neck and give you traction if you need to pull yourself out of the water.
- If you're ice fishing, keep a boat seat cushion and a 30 to 50 foot length of rope in your shanty. Both could come in handy for someone.
- Wear a whistle. The sound will get people's attention that there is a problem.
- Keep an eye on the weather. If there are extended temperatures above freezing or rain, stay off the ice.
- Keep a change of clothes and blanket in your vehicle. If you go in and get wet, get out of those clothes ASAP. Hypothermia can set in fast.
- DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL. It can lower your body temperature and cloud your judgment.
Find more tips from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources HERE.