Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County
Soon, we’ll be back out on our Wisconsin Lakes to begin the Hardwater Season. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urges the public to practice ice safety on all of Wisconsin’s waterbodies as they begin traveling on ice.
They’re already reporting sever ice/water rescues across the state. Recent water rescues serve as chilly reminders that early-season ice on any Wisconsin waterbody is thin, weak and potentially life-threatening to anyone looking to get a jump on winter fun. None of the early-season breakthrough rescues were fatal incidents.
“Temperature swings, strong winds, currents, underground springs feeding lakes and rivers vary widely across Wisconsin,” said Maj. April Dombrowski, DNR recreational safety and outdoor skills section chief. “These factors are why no ice is ever considered safe, especially not this early in the season.”
Remember if you’re traveling out on the ice, the DNR does not monitor ice conditions. If plans include access to or use of an ice-covered waterbody, contact local fishing clubs, bait shops or outfitters for ice conditions.
“These places routinely check ice conditions and can give you the best and most current conditions,” Dombrowski said. “If you can plan your outing without any travel over ice, do it. And if you are going to be on some ice, let someone know your plans and follow them.”
A waterbody can have its own characteristics. Check if the lake has inlets and outlets.
Know whether its narrows are spring-fed or have currents like rivers, both of which can thin the ice. Some smaller lakes can have aerators that are run throughout the winter, either covering a large area towards the center of the lake or may have smaller aerators placed by private property landowners adjacent to their shore and piers.
It is equally important to stay alert for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice and resulting open water. They are often created, move or grow with changes in temperatures and high winds. Pressure ridges and ice heaves can happen on Wisconsin’s largest lake, Lake Winnebago, a popular home to sturgeon spearers, and on Green Bay.
Anyone using Green Bay for any reason this winter should be especially cautious. Green Bay is about 120 miles long and 10 to 20 miles wide. According to DNR Marine Warden Team Supervisor Lt. Ryan Propson, navigation channels serving as ship highways cause the huge water body to only completely freeze over occasionally.
Fishermen must pay extra attention to changing weather conditions, including high winds, and be knowledgeable of the maintenance of the navigation channel to avoid becoming stranded on free-floating icebergs.
During any time of the winter, but especially when the shipping channel is being maintained, any high wind can create waves under the ice. The force of the waves causes the cracks to form, leading to large sections of ice breaking off and floating away. Similar situations can occur due to cracking with large or sudden temperature changes.
Ice safety basics
Here are a few basic ice safety tips to remember:
- Carry a cell phone, and let people know where you are going and when you’ll return;
- Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a life jacket or a float coat, to stay afloat and to help maintain body heat;
- Wear ice creepers to prevent slipping on clear ice;
- Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas;
- Carry spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself – or others – out onto the ice;
- If you fall in, remain as calm as possible and, while attempting to get out of the water, call for help;
- Anyone who attempts a rescue should use a rope or something similar to avoid falling through themselves;
- Do not travel in unfamiliar areas or at night.
The DNR has an ice safety page posted on its website. Check out the page before you head out on the ice.