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Caution is needed

December 22, 2012
By TODD REED , Times-Republican

The colder weather that has finally hit the Marshalltown area is just what I wanted for Christmas. I could care less for the back breaking snowfall that triggered the arctic weather, but I guess there is always the bad with the good. I have been watching the forecast closely for over a month now, in hopes of this current weather we are having. I am so glad that Mother Nature turned on her ice making machine.

This time of winter is very exciting, perhaps because the ice is late once again this year. Ice anglers in Northern Iowa have been on the ice for about a week or so, and we are almost on the ice here in Marshalltown. There is nobody in this state as excited as me to get on the ice, drill my first holes, and drop down the Vexilar fish finder in hopes of catching fish. However, this time of year always tests the nerves a little too. This is the time of year when the most caution is needed.

Anticipation is high right now for ice anglers, it is almost the end of December, and we still do have fishable ice. Don't let that anticipation get the best of your common sense, use extreme caution in the next few weeks when looking for ice that is suitable for ice fishing. Please keep in mind that NO ice is "safe ice". Use caution, and heed to the tips provided below.

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A lot of caution and safety is needed in the next few weeks as ice anglers venture out to their favorite fishing spots. Having the proper safety gear, using the buddy system and drilling a lot of test holes to measure the ice thickness are among the most important things to remember when heading out on the ice.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you check your first ice fishing spots of the 2012-2013 ice fishing season in order of their importance.

TIP #1- dress for the weather. Always dress for the worst weather. You can always take clothes off, but you can't put them on if you don't have them. A good pair of boots, coveralls, a couple hats, gloves, even an extra set might be nice if one gets wet from handling all those fish!

TIP #2- always use the buddy system. Take a friend with you. This will allow you to have one person stay on land while the other can go onto the lake to make some test holes. Two people along during this early ice is best, you could save each other if an accident occurs.

TIP#3- safety devices. Every ice angler needs to invest the money in some safety items. The first thing to get is a pair of ice picks. These are two picks that go around your neck and will help you pull yourself out of the water if you fall in. Without these, you have nothing to grip and could eventually wear yourself out and result in hypothermia or even worse. You can use them in your hands to stab into the ice and pull yourself up and onto a safe area. Each angler should also have a flotation device ready. If a person were to go into the water, you could throw them a life vest or a flotation cushion. These take up very little room and make for a good seat cushion too!

TIP #4- Another safety device is a rope. Get a length of rope at least 30 feet long and put it with your ice fishing things. This rope can be used to help a person out of the water from a distance and will keep at least one person in a safe area.

TIP#5- Finally, now that you have everything to have a safe day on the ice, you must check the ice. I get asked dozens of times a year, "how do you know if the ice is thick enough?". Well I wish there was an easy answer to that, but there isn't. You just have to walk out on the ice and test it. It does take a little courage, but having all the proper safety gear before I start walking out onto the lake makes it a lot easier to do. I have a simple way of testing the ice, every 10 steps or so I drill a test hole to check the thickness of the ice. I also use a ruler to get an accurate measurement of the ice. The Department of Natural Resources suggests that you have 3-4 inches of ice under you if you intend to fish. I really believe in this, NO fish is worth going through the ice. Use a ruler or your fingers to measure, don't just assume, ice is very deceiving when looking at it from an angle.

It does seem like a lot to worry about and plan for, however, if you ever need any of the safety devices, you will have them ready. I hope nobody ever needs to use them, but having them nearby really helps an angler be safe, concentrate on fishing and have fun during these cold months. By taking the precautions each time going on the ice, you too can follow your outdoor ambition of catching fish through the ice. Be careful, check for ice thickness, and stay warm! In the following weeks I hope to report on some are ice fishing action. Remember the safety tips provided, remember that no ice is safe ice, and remember to "pull the plug" on any ice fishing trip where you do not feel safe on the ice.



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