Seeing a fish in an ice hole is tempting, but wait for safe ice.

Ice gives ice fishermen two different options to consider. One is to ask questions of bait-shops and local anglers before venturing out onto any ice or they don’t ask. That’s the way it works most years, but certainly not this one.

Let’s face one very important fact. Anyone who has spent much time on the ice over many years has probably seen someone fall through. I’ve gone through three different times. That I sit here on the computer every night writing personal blogs means I survived each incident, but I haven’t forgotten them. It also is a gut-wrenching event, one that smart folks never forget.

Those who have gone through, and lived through the experience, often gaze toward the sky, and murmur a very special thanks.

Preparation for any eventuality on ice is just common sense.

It also means that a person should always be prepared for such an accident. Most people fret about falling out of a tree, so they buy a safety harness of high quality, learn how to use it, and if by chance they do fall, they survive. Ice anglers should always take precautions.

People believe such things only happens to other people. Anyone with some intelligence can see how such ice accidents can and do happen. For many it means a bitterly cold bath but they survive.

Michigan’s weather is amazing. Last week’s temperatures didn’t make any ice, and the this week anglers are being warned to stay off any half-frozen lakes and streams, if they can find any ice.

Read this and repeat it as if it were a mantra: There is no really safe in the Traverse City area now. Some small bog ponds may be froze but only a fool would venture out on them.

It’s well known that ice doesn’t freeze uniformly. Lakes that set down in a valley often freeze up first because cold weather settles, but those same lakes often are the first to get covered with water and slush during warmer weather, and then the ice becomes unsafe.

Large lakes are slow to freeze, especially those with deep water. Good examples of such waters are Crystal Lake near Beulah and Higgins Lake near Roscommon. Some of these lake may not go over (have safe ice) until next month, and then waters like Grand Traverse Bay at Traverse City may not freeze at all. If it does freeze early, it’s often goes out in mid-February, and the thaw usually comes early. Be extremely cautious at all times. So far, as of yesterday, there is no ice.

As it stands right now, very few lakes in the northern counties have safe ice. Now, very few lakes have any ice following the warm spell and high winds.

What’s a person to do? First thing is to check with local bait shops to determine ice safety. The other thing people can do is stay off the ice until they are certain it is safe.

Thin ice kills people every year. Avoid that temptation.

Me, I like at least four inches of hard blue ice under my Ice Man boots. Six inches is even better, and I’m most comfortable with 10 to 12 inches. Some anglers go out on Saginaw Bay, but as prone as that ice mass is to breaking away from shore on a stout west wind, it pays be very cautious.

A few smaller lakes near Traverse City are good for bluegills and sunfish, and Spider Lake can be great. Nearby Platte Lake has very poor ice conditions, and any ice is very unsafe. The same holds true for Long Lake, another popular spot.

I dearly love to fish through the ice. I also like to continue breathing, and you won’t find me out on a lake with a skim of ice. I know many people who put their lives at great risk, as well as others who might try to save them, but it’s senseless to do so this year.

Burt and Mullet lakes in Cheboygan County should be producing walleyes and some perch, but again, conditions are bad. In-flowing and out-flowing streams make safe ice problematic. Warming weather hastens a sudden ice melt, and ice can turn treacherous.

Be patient for safe ice, and if it doesn’t happen, wait for next winter.

Anglers would be smart to hold off for another week or two, and realize right now that there may not be much, if any, safe ice fishing this year. It all depends on whether we get freezing temperatures at night, and allow everything to stiffen up again. A second freezing (after a melt) often doesn’t produce great ice so keep that in mind.

Risking one’s life on inland lakes and rivers is not worth the effort. The best catch of game fish in the world isn’t worth taking chances with your life. The safest and wisest thing to do is to watch and wait for good ice to form

Local bait dealers know when the ice is safe and where the fish are biting. Keep track of conditions with a phone call or two, and don’t take chances. Going through the ice is a harrowing experience, if you survive, and a tragedy if you don’t.

The worst case scenario — death by drowning or exposure — is the other possibility. Neither option appeals to me or other sane people.

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