Exercise caution on the ice and on snowmobiles

Last winter was one of most dangerous on record in New York for winter outdoor recreation, particularly for snowmobilers and ice anglers. Unfortunately, this one is not off to a good start.

On Dec. 16, a Queensbury, N.Y., man drowned after falling through the ice while fishing on Edgecomb Pond, a small body of water in Warren County that allows ice fishing for rainbow trout. Since I live in the area, this one hits close to home. Although I did not personally know the victim I do, however, know people who did. This was just an awful tragedy to endure and certainly put a damper on the holiday season.

Safety is always a factor in the sport of ice fishing, and during early season it should be emphasized even more. The first rule is judgment and common sense. There is no open or closed season for ice fishing, but as soon as the hard water buttons up you can bet anglers are out there trying to get the upper hand on hungry fish. Yes, there are guidelines regarding safe ice, but every body of water is different in relation to currents, springs and structure that can make for inconsistent and unsafe ice conditions, especially during the early formation of ice.

Weather is always a factor. It has been a cold December for the most part, but most of November was quite warm, and therefore so was the water temperature. There’s also snow to factor in. A few days before the Dec. 16 tragedy, the area got a good dumping of wet, heavy snow. One can only imagine how the added weight affected the newly formed ice.

There are many anglers who won’t go out on early ice at all. I actually prefer four or six inches myself and usually wait until well after other anglers have been out there. Sure, I may miss the early action so many anglers are addicted to. But when I do go, it is with some peace of mind.

Taking some extra equipment like a life vest (and actually wearing it), a spud to check ice conditions, ice picks and a rope are also a good idea. But nothing is guaranteed and anglers often still get into trouble even when they have this equipment.

Moving on to snowmobiling, as of this writing, things are just getting going in parts of New York, mainly in the Tug Hill and western Adirondacks. Again, last year was a very dangerous snowmobiling season and a few of those incidents also involved bad decisions about riding on the ice.

Two that come to mind took place on Lake Champlain, near the Vermont border, and near Tupper Lake in the northern Adirondacks. Snowmobiling can be a very safe activity when factors like speed and alcohol are kept to a minimum. Never underestimate the power of machinery.

Snowmobiling and ice fishing are exciting winter sports in which participants wait all year for Mother Nature to provide the right conditions for their enjoyment. In some areas, after a couple of soft winters, that excitement is even stronger as winter appears to be kicking in. Have fun, but please be careful – and most of all, use common sense.

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