Cut the ice and drop a line
A sport in our region that does not get a lot of attention is ice fishing. Most anglers are content to wait for the opening of the regular trout season in the spring. There are a few fishermen who do continue to fish some of our local lakes during the winter months. These anglers fish frozen lakes by cutting holes through the ice, generally with an ice auger.The sport of ice fishing is a very popular pastime in the Midwest, and even in eastern Nevada. One of the premier ice fishing locations in eastern Nevada is Wildhorse Reservoir. Certain locations will sometimes have thousands of anglers on the water at the same time. Many locations will look like small towns, with fishing enclosures looking like shanty towns. The enclosures are very necessary in these locations because of the very cold temperatures.In our region, we do not necessarily experience the extremes that they do in the Midwest, or even eastern Nevada. Daytime temperatures during the winter months in this area can be downright comfortable in most cases. As a result, most local anglers do not fish using any form of enclosure.Typically, our local ice fishing season occurs in January and February, when the ice is most stable.Ice does not freeze evenly on rivers and lakes. Underground springs, water current, schooling fish, water depth, temperature fluctuations and wind all affect ice thickness. Snow cover has insulating properties, and its depth will affect the thickness of ice. The weight of the snow will adversely affect the weight-bearing capacity of ice. Ice thickness will often vary greatly on any given body of water, frequently within a very short distance.Caution and preparedness are primary concerns whenever you decide to venture onto the ice. As described above, there are many variables to the condition of the ice.That said, here is the general rule of thumb regarding safe ice: Two inches of solid ice is permissible for one person on foot. Three inches is safe for a group in single file. The U.S. Army Cold Region Research & Engineering Laboratory puts this into a much better perspective. Two inches of ice will support a load of 200 pounds and a safe distance between loads is 17 feet. Ice four inches thick will support 2,000 pounds and a safe distance between loads is 34 feet. What I find interesting is the relationship between the weight and distance. Make sure to space your holes a safe distance apart from your friends.What about the hole size? In the past, California regulations limited the hole size to six inches in diameter. A limit on hole size is now absent in the regulations. In Nevada, ice fishing hole size is limited to 10 inches in diameter. I was told that the reason there was a limit on hole size was for general safety reasons. It was to limit the possibility of a person falling through the ice through a recently created fishing spot. It makes sense. You can chop some pretty large holes with an axe.My recommendation, even though there appears to be no regulation in place, is to limit the hole size to no more than 10 inches in diameter. You really do not need a hole size larger.Here are some additional safety gear recommendations for fishing the ice should you fall in: A personal floatation device. A rope of rescue throw bag containing a rope that floats. Ice rescue picks are also an excellent idea.
The ice can be a great place on which to be during the fishing season. However, it can also be extremely dangerous. There are many other things to consider regarding safety on the ice. Keep in mind our California temperatures are much milder than they are in the Midwest. Realizing this you should be very cautious when attempting any ice fishing in California waters. Keep an eye on the air temperatures for the week before you are going to plan your outing and continue to monitor it while you are fishing.Finally, check with local sporting goods shops that are in contact with people who venture out onto the ice on a frequent basis during the season. They will have some idea about the safety of the ice from these sources. Use some common sense when attempting this sport. It can be a lot of fun if you approach it safely. Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.