Winter ice safety

I’ve seen on the local news lately that number of snowmobilers had fallen through the ice on area lakes and ponds with some deaths resulting. This is a tragedy that can be avoided by both snowmobilers and ice-fishermen.

I grew up ice-fishing at an early age. I’m not sure it’s true, but we were always told that “first ice,” as it was called, was the best conditions for ice-fishing. I can remember “first ice” fishing with my brother Brian down at White’s Cove, now known as Hoyt’s Landing by the toll bridge in Springfield. The ice would be just over an inch thick. We would shuffle out on this thin ice and fish. As we walked the ice acted like rubber flexing in front of us.

When I was about 21, I went down to White’s Cove to ice-fish. I had already been fishing on the cove where there were about six inches of ice that early winter. On this day I wanted to fish for walleyes so instead of going out on the cove I headed across the ice where the Black River comes in. I would walk a few feet and test the ice with my chisel to check thickness.

I consistently found about two inches of ice and was comfortable about proceeding across the river to the “point,” as it was called. As I approached where the current in the Black River started to flow, I broke through the ice.

The water was over my head and I was completely submerged. The only reason I’m alive to tell this story today was pure luck. When I broke through I lost my chisel and all of my ice-fishing equipment. The hole I broke through was about three feet in a jagged diameter, and the current was slowly taking me downstream under the ice. I have never been more scared in my entire life.

You can’t imagine how cold I was. I struggled to swim toward the open hole and made it to the surface. I grabbed the edge of the ice and tried to pull myself out of the icy water. Now I had another problem. As most know, a heavy rock weighs less in water until you start to raise it above the water level. I was now the rock.

I was wearing woolen pants, wool coat and heavy winter boots. When I broke through the ice I probably weighed 150 pounds. The woolen clothes acted like a sponge and absorbed a lot of water. I now probably weighed 200 pounds. As I used my forearms to try and pull myself up out of the water the ice kept breaking in front of me.

The thin ice that had supported my 150 pounds couldn’t support my new weight of 200 pounds. I kept breaking the ice in front of me hoping to get to thicker ice that would support me. As I got colder I became weaker. I thought I was going to die that day.

Eventually, after breaking the ice for 12 feet or so, I finally found ice thick enough to pull myself out of the water. I have never been so cold. I made it back to my 1967 Chevelle, opened the driver’s door, sat down and lifted my legs to pour the water out of my boots. The car had only been turned off a few minutes so the heater immediately worked. I drove home uncontrollably shaking, with my teeth chattering. I immediately took my wet clothes off. I was blue all over. I filled the bathtub with hot water and climbed in and just sat there shivering. I was cold right to the bone for several hours after this experience.

The reason I wrote this story is because I am saddened by the needless loss of life on area lakes and ponds this winter. The recent warm weather, combined with the not-too-thick ice we have this winter, is a formula for disaster.

Young people like I was at 21 think they are immune from accidents and will live forever. If you go out on the ice be very careful. Don’t take any chances. There isn’t a fish large enough to surrender your life for.

Some will remember my brother Brian. Brian has been “baptized” three times. He always was a slow learner.

Ron Patch
Ron’s son Shawn on Lake Rescue near boy scout camp. Photo provided.

The photo with this article is my son Shawn, taken on Lake Rescue 35 years ago. It illustrates the woolen clothing I mention.

This week’s old saying: “Money can’t buy happiness but it sure can make misery more tolerable.”

The March 12 Roundtable event has been cancelled.


Back To Top