Last winter was much too warm for any ice fishing in this area, and it is a rare opportunity when there is enough good ice for safely trying your luck in this part of the country. Last year , there was very little good ice even in the far northern U.S.
But when we do get a few winter days with safe ice, it is fun to catch fish through the ice, and it seems like the cold water makes whatever fish you catch mighty tasty.
About two weeks ago, the weather demonstrated signs of developing ice. There was a skiff of ice in some back bays and on small ponds, but then warm weather hit again in early December and some folks were out in their tee shirts.
Most long range forecasts are calling for a much colder winter this year, and I saw one television weatherman predicting 10 snows of one inch depth or more. My wife, Phyllis also predicts a cold winter based on the length of the coats on horses she has observed. So, maybe there will be a chance of a handful of good ice fishing days.
Safety always is a concern in Indiana because the ice is rarely thick and safe for an extended period of time. However during a normal year, it varies greatly from one end of the state to the other. While southern Indiana usually only has a few days of good ice, the northern third of the state may have good ice angling for much of the winter.
When there is good ice in the central portion of the state, the strip mine pits in the western part of the state are good fishing destinations. A good number of the pits are now part of fish and wildlife areas.
Ice anglers should be alert to the dangers of different types of ice. Ice may be safe on one pond, and not on another. A slush type of ice is very dangerous and may be only half as strong as clear, blue ice. Slush ice indicates a weakening of the ice. Clear and blue river ice may be 15 percent weaker than pond or lake ice.
New ice is almost always stronger than old ice because the connection between ice crystals decays with age, according to the Indiana DNR. Dark or honeycombed ice indicates deterioration and should be avoided. Even when a cold snap stops the deterioration process, dark or honeycombed ice will never refreeze to its original strength.
Wind chill affects the "cold" anglers feel. A light wind can accelerate the formation of ice, but strong winds can force water from beneath the ice and accelerate the decay of ice around the edges.
Snow is a good insulator for ice and helps keep it strong, but it can also keep it from further freezing or even hide cracks or weak ice. Lakes with moving water should be approached with caution. Water movement can slow the freezing process and leave hard-to-detect thin spots.
Ice conditions can and do vary greatly. Because there are so many variables in ice formation, ice forms at different rates. One spot can be an inch thick while another area close by can be almost a foot thick.
Anglers should be aware of how much weight each ice type and thickness can support.
The Indiana DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife recommends using the following ice thickness guidelines:
— one inch of ice - do not walk on ice this thin!
— two to three inches of clear, blue ice will support one adult walking.
— four inches of ice is needed for safe ice fishing.
— five inches of ice is needed for snowmobiling across ice.
— eight inches of ice is needed to support the weight of a car or light truck.
— 10 inches of ice is needed to support a medium weight truck.
These are guidelines and will vary with different types of ice. Anglers and other outdoor recreationists should use good common sense and not take chances. Frankly, I like four inches of ice to feel safe.
When you have good ice, it can be great for fishing. And, panfish never tastes better than when taken from clear, cold water.