Sarley: Digging into some critical ice fishing safety tips

I thought I was doing a pretty good job in writing about ice fishing over these past couple of weeks. I covered footwear that will keep you from falling on your behinds, selecting basic ice fishing equipment and moving up to better gear. I also talked about some good ice fishing guides in northern Illinois.

I thought I was pretty thorough giving a class in Ice Fishing 101, but leave it to you loyal, eagle-eyed readers to call me out when you spot something amiss, and you did. I was politely taken to task by a number of you for not talking about ice fishing safety.

How embarrassing is that, especially for a guy who has preached safety on the ice as the most important part of this sport year after year? My face is certainly a bright shade of crimson and not from being out in the wind and the cold.

I can’t imagine much worse than falling through the ice. It’s so scary, that I hate to even think about it. I had a friend who had a home on Paw Paw Lake in southern Michigan. One winter an ice fisherman went through the ice. They abandoned the search and waited to find him until the ice thawed in the spring a few months later. Can you imagine his family waiting months to find the remains of their loved one? The situation probably could of had a better outcome if some precautions had been taken.

Now, let’s go over some of the things that you should have with you when you go ice fishing to ensure your safety. A spud bar is a must. No, a spud bar isn’t a place at the mall food court that serves various kinds of potatoes with toppings. A spud is a long metal or wooden rod with a weighted end. You pound it hard on the ice in front of you before you walk on it to make sure that it is solid. If the ice cracks, slowly turn around and head back in the direction that you came from. Slowly is the key word here, no matter how scared you might be.

Carrying a long length of rope is a good idea, too. You’ll need to play rodeo cowboy and toss an end to the member of your ice fishing party who has broken through the ice. What if you are the one who has had the misfortune of going through the ice? Your rope should have spikes tied to the ends. I think that in the sport of mountain climbing, they call them pitons. You just jam the spikes into the edge of the safe ice and then pull yourself up by the ropes.

That situation never should arise, and you shouldn’t have to rescue yourself because the first rule of ice fishing is never go ice fishing alone.

Ice fishermen are covered in layer upon layer of insulated clothing. Sometimes an ice angler will end up looking like Randy, Ralphie’s brother in the movie “A Christmas Story.” How could you possibly fit another item of clothing onto that mass of apparel on your body?

Well, a life preserver is something that makes a lot of sense to wear when ice fishing. One of those inflatable vests would be ideal. You could wear it under your coat and pull the inflating cord if you had the misfortune of crashing through the ice. Yes, these vests are pricey, but I am sure that after one saved your life, you’d be saying it was well worth the price.

When is it safe to ice fish? If you ask around, you’ll get many answers. Recently, there were some anglers on area lakes standing on 11/2 inches of frozen water. Today, I am hearing of guys fishing on backwaters holding a mere 2 inches of ice. That’s not for me, my friends. You’d have to twist my arm pretty darned hard to get me to follow you out onto 4 inches of ice. I prefer 5 to 6 inches. Call me “chicken” all day. You won’t hurt my feelings one single bit.

Good luck out there, and please remember to be safe. This ice fishing season, if you believe the “Farmers’ Almanac” at all, promises to be a long one, and hopefully a productive one. Don’t let a stupid accident that could be avoided cut your season short.


Early winter fishing: Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait and Tackle in Crystal Lake writes, “It looks like the ice-making weather is here to stay. Always check first ice near the shore or off of a dock. Fishing the shallow back waters or small ponds are generally the first places to have good ice. Light line – 1- to 4-pound test – and a small jig with a wax worm, spike or small minnow should work for panfish. Call 815-861-1533 for an updated report.”

Herman’s Rest-A-While is the traditional center for first ice in our area. Herman’s is located on the backwaters of the Fox River in Fox River Valley Gardens. You can call them for a report at 847-639-9644. I hear that some brave souls are trying for crappies through
2 inches of ice and getting them on waxies.


Archery deer hunting: A total of 80,896 deer were taken by hunters during the seven-day Illinois Firearm Deer Season that concluded Sunday. The 2018 preliminary harvest total compares with the final total of 80,117 deer harvested during the firearm season in 2017.

The harvest for the second segment of the firearm season Nov. 29 to Sunday was 22,060, compared with 28,656 during the second season in 2017. The preliminary harvest for the first segment of firearm season Nov. 16 to 18 was 58,836 deer.

Totals for the number of deer harvested during the entire 2018 firearm deer season for some northern Illinois counties are McHenry (292), Winnebago (341), Kane (32), DeKalb (125) and Boone (141). Nice work, hunters.

Muskies Inc. meeting: The Fox River Valley Chapter of Muskies Inc. will have its next monthly meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Chandler’s Chophouse Grille & Banquets in Schaumburg. The price of admission is $5 a person at the door. The meeting is open to the public and guests are always welcome. The speaker at the meeting is Dan Koniewicz, who is a great speaker, as well as a great muskie fisherman for more than 30 years. Not only is Koniewicz the group’s current president, but he was one of the original FRV members when the club was founded 37 years ago. FRV also is conducting its annual canned food drive for the Elgin Women’s Crisis Center. If you bring some canned goods or other nonperishable items to donate to the shelter, the group will waive your $5 admission fee.

Webinar: Our friend, Lowrance electronics expert Mark O’Neill, will be doing a Facebook Live webinar at
7 p.m. Tuesday titled “Inside the Lowrance HDS Live and more.” This will be done through his Facebook page, “Structure-Fishing with Mark O’Neill,” and there is a link to the event on that page. If you go to that link now, one can click on the “get reminder” note and Facebook will send you a reminder as the event gets closer.

O’Neill also will be at Cabela’s in Hoffman Estates on Dec. 15 for its ice fishing festivities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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