Snow cover can bedevil those venturing onto ice

First Posted: 2/13/2015

Ever hear of a “Devil’s Blanket?”

It’s a term the U.S. Coast Guard uses for heavy snow cover on ice.

That was highly evident during a snowstorm Jan. 31 and Feb. 1-2 in the Great Lakes area when the agency rescued eight people and assisted six others. The Coast Guard blamed the snow cover along with inaccurate expectations for snowmobilers and other rescues on Saginaw Bay in Michigan and parts of western Lake Erie from Toledo to the Marblehead area.

“Our nickname for heavy snow cover is the devil’s blanket, because it covers up visual signs of thin ice and also insulates the water and ice underneath, which prevents new ice from forming in cold temperatures.” said Master Chief Petty Officer Terry W. Lathrop, officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Saginaw, Mich.

People venturing onto ice can make inaccurate decisions. They don’t realize how heavy snow can be on ice, plus the unpredictability of ice because it does not always freeze uniformly. They often fail to check a weather forecast before venturing out and are not familiar with the area where they are going.

In Ohio that weekend, six snowmobilers were rescued after going through the ice while three others became disoriented and lost during the snowstorm.

In Michigan, three snowmobilers went through the ice while a disoriented man on Saginaw Bay was fortunate his cell phone worked after he fell through the ice and climbed back out of the water. He twice called 911 and the second time the dispatcher told him to use his flashlight and the light worked as Coast Guard personnel rescued him while using a 20-foot rescue air boat.

Lathrop encourages people to remember the acronym I.C.E. when you venture out onto ice-covered lakes. The acronym stands for information, clothing and equipment.

This is how the Coast Guard describes the three words:

Information — Check the weather and ice conditions; tell a friend of your intended destination; know who and how to call for help; be familiar with the area you plan to go, especially when going after dark or during inclement weather.

Clothing — Wear sufficient clothing, including a dry suit, to prevent hypothermia. Choose bright colors and reflective garments to aid searchers if you should end up needing help.

Equipment — Never venture onto the ice without proper safety equipment: a marine radio, a personal locator beacon, a life jacket, a compass or GPS, and screw drivers or ice picks which may allow you to pull yourself out of the water should you break through.

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A mistake many anglers make while ice fishing (and also during open water) is sitting still and not moving.

Fish do not remain stationary. They move too, especially yellow perch and other panfish.

Mid-winter is a time perch will school up and move to deeper water. If anglers want to catch them, they better move as well. You may have to auger several holes, but hole hopping is a method of ice fishing that can be quite productive.

You can be passive or aggressive in your presentations. I like to be aggressive. In this method, I tip an ice jig with a larval bait (almost always a spike and most times two or three of them) and constantly jig it hoping to attract the fish’s attention. One can also use jigging spoons. A passive presentation is one where you may use live bait (larval or minnows) below a slip bobber.

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A world ice fishing record for yellow perch was recently certified as a record in the ice fishing tipup category by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

Tia Wiese, 12, landed the huge perch last March on Cascade Lake in Idaho. The jumbo perch weighed 2 pounds, 11.68 ounces and measured 15.5 inches long and had a girth of 2.75 inches.

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Fish facts: In a recent column, the amazing olfactory senses of a dog were mentioned. But did you know that a salmon’s sense of smell is far superior to that of a dog’s?

Ever wonder if a fish closes its eyes when it sleeps. Except for sharks, they can’t because they have no eyelids. Fish do have resting periods similar to human’s sleep.

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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is not going away and is being battled in 23 states.

It was among the major concerns at recent deer summits held by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

In Iowa where tests showed at least three hunters harvested deer with the disease in one county, the state’s DNR has scheduled two public meetings to discuss the status of the deer herd in Allamakee County on Tuesday.

“We’ve learned from other states that we need to move strategically, but fairly quickly, to get on top of this before CWD becomes established,” Dr. Dale Garner, chief of wildlife for the Iowa DNR, said.

The Iowa DNR will present its findings, discuss available options and seek input during the meetings.

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In recent years, Keith Warnke of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has noticed a change in the face of hunting.

“To be effective at stopping the decline in hunters, we need to refocus our programs to serve growing demand,” he said. “Many adults interested in hunting did not come from hunting families. But they may not know where to get started.”

The WDNR offers a “Learn to Hunt for Food” program and Warnke teaches it.

“Learn to Hunt events are a great way for them to learn in a controlled environment with an experienced mentor. Most of these students don’t come from hunting families,” Warnke said. “We start at the very beginning and show them everything. The course is really a soup to nuts kind of thing.” Warnke said that while food classes typically have a higher percentage of women students, “our classes are about half-and-half men and women. When you consider the population of hunters, women make up about 10 percent.”

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