MARQUETTE - Although temperatures have been below zero lately, the mantra for ice on local lakes is the same for anywhere: No ice is safe ice.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers and snowmobilers that even with the early arrival of Arctic temperatures, people venturing onto ice should use caution.
"Just because a lake or stream looks frozen doesn't mean the ice is safe," said Lt. Andrew Turner, marine safety and education supervisor for the DNR Law Enforcement Division, in a written statement. "By following some guidelines on how ice looks and feels, you can avoid your day of ice fishing ending in a life-threatening incident."
An unidentified fisherman on Teal Lake in Negaunee uses an auger, which can help determine ice depth. (Journal file photo) Inset, a pair of ice picks can help someone who has fallen through the ice get back on top of it. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo by David Kenyon)
Turner said a person can't always determine ice strength simply by its look, thickness, temperature or whether there's snow. New ice, he pointed out, usually is much stronger than old ice. An ice angler could walk out on a couple of inches of new, clear ice, but a foot of old ice with air bubbles might not provide support.
"Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest," Turner said. "Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and is often very porous and weak."
On the other hand, ice covered by snow should always be presumed unsafe, Turner said, because snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows freezing, making the ice underneath weaker and thinner.
Turner also warned people to stay off ice containing slush. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice, which indicates the ice isn't freezing from the bottom anymore. Also, fluctuating temperatures can cause problems, he noted, with ice thawing during the day and refreezing at night resulting in unsafe, "spongy" ice.
The DNR doesn't recommend testing ice with the standard "inch-thickness" guide because ice rarely forms at a uniform rate. For example, deep inland lakes take longer to freeze than shallow lakes. Also, ice cover on lakes with strong currents is more unpredictable.
"Do not venture out onto the ice unless you test the thickness and quality with a spud or needle bar or an auger," Turner said.
After all, ice that's 6 or 7 inches thick in one spot can be only 2 inches thick close by, he said.
On big lakes, ice cover, according to Turner, might be thick enough to hold a car while other areas are a little more than an inch thick.
Geography matters as well. The DNR's most recent fishing report for the Upper Peninsula said ice was good for Little Bay De Noc, but anglers were told to use caution when fishing at Cedarville and Hessel and to carry a flotation device.
It pays to be proactive wherever a person goes out on ice. Turner recommended a person wear a life jacket, wear bright colors and take a cell phone, plus bring a set of ice picks or claws to aid in getting out of the water should the unfortunate happen and someone falls through.
It also helps to be able to simply walk on ice without falling and getting injured. The Safety Store, located along Wright Street in Marquette Township, carries footwear designed for this purpose that's worn over shoes.
"It provides more traction, so you're more stable on your feet and they're not going to fly out from under you," manager Stephen Atwood said.
Should the worst happen and someone does fall through the ice, Turner offered these tips:
- Remain calm.
- Keep winter clothing on. Heavy clothes such as a snowmobile suit can trap air and provide warmth and flotation.
- Turn in the water toward the direction from which you came, which probably is the strongest ice.
- Dig the points of picks into the ice and vigorously kick your feet, pulling yourself onto the surface by sliding forward.
- Roll away from the area of weak ice to distribute your weight and keep from breaking through again.
- Find warm and dry clothing, shelter and heat. Consume drinks that are warm, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated.
- Call 911 and seek medical attention if you have uncontrollable shivering, feel disoriented or have other ill effects that might be related to hypothermia.
For more information, visit the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/recreationalsafety.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.