October on the Ice and Extreme Safety
Well it was sure fun while it lasted! Why do I say that? Well, on Monday Oct. 26th, thanks to a tip from friends Craig Oyler and Chris Peters, I was able to join them on the first ice of the season! It was by far the earliest any of us had been on the ice in the Black Hills. The warm weather that has returned since this outing has pulled the rug out from continuing the hardwater season since then, with temps running into the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The excitement was short lived, but colder temps will finally be returning next week and hopefully the ice will return and be available to get on before Thanksgiving. But I cannot stress enough that first ice, especially when it is still well below what is considered the minimum for walking on safely, is not to be taken lightly and is not for everyone.
The ice on the little pond was just at 2" and hard enough to support us, though we did not fish or kneel close to each other, even for pictures. All 3 of us caught our first iced fish of the season, all of which consisted of small rainbow or brook trout. But cannot complain about fish size when you are on the ice in October! While the excitement of getting on the hardwater before Halloween was extremely high, safety is the highest priority, first and foremost.
Craig used his spud bar to probe the ice and see if it would support our weight. Due to the thickness of the ice, no auger was used. Holes were opened by using the spud bar. We all had on either Ice Armor Rise or Ascent suits from Clam Outdoors which would keep us floating head up in the water should the worst happen. We also all had on ice picks around our necks to use to help pull us out of the water if we fell through. I also had a safety rope nearby should be needed. As always, I also kept a bag with a spare set of clothes in my vehicle to use in case of a need to quickly change out of wet clothes. And of course, most importantly, none of us went out alone. Between the three of us, we had someone to help us if it were needed. Never go out on first ice alone!
For obsessive ice fishermen like the three of us are, we were and are willing to chance thinner ice in order to get out on it and fish it as early as possible, but we do not do it lightly or without planning for the worst. While it may not be the absolute smartest thing we do (and we can admit it), we also do not take chances without having the proper safety equipment on or at the ready. Spud bars are a necessity to test ice integrity in front of you. Float suits are the best investment you can make in keeping you not only warm and cozy from the elements, but also keeping you safer should you fall through. Clam's float suits, along with the other brands out there making them, will help you to better survive a breakthrough should it ever happen. But if a float suit is out of the range, then ice picks around your neck are probably the cheapest insurance policy you can buy! At less than $10, they will be able to help you get a grip on slippery ice and pull yourself out of your situation. I would also recommend watching the numerous videos on the Internet that show you how to get yourself out of the water and out of danger in the best ways. These tools and videos could help save your life.