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Outdoors: PFBC guidelines for safe ice

The recent blast of cold air (with more to come this week) is producing some ice on lakes and ponds, but mostly in the Pocono area. And it’s no secret that ice anglers are anxious to be able to walk on water for some early ice fishing. But early ice has its problems.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission says that no ice is 100 percent safe, especially early ice. And with a blanket of snow on top of an ice-covered lake, it actually insulates the ice and slows the growth of ice while it hides potential hazards or weak spots.

Signs to look for are ice with a bluish color that is safer than clear ice. Anglers should avoid slushy or honey-combed ice and it’s best to stay away from dark spots on the ice. The agency says don’t walk into areas where snow cover looks discolored. Any off-colored snow or ice is usually a sign of weakness.

Here are some other ice fishing safety tips from the PFBC:

*Test ice thickness with an auger before going farther out onto a lake. Four inches of solid ice is the minimum recommended thickness for a single person. Seven inches is the minimum for a small group.

*This last point brings up a suggestion to spread out. Concentrated crowds can put too much weight onto one area.

*Be aware of ice thickness across a body of water. Check ice thickness frequently. Perimeter ice is weaker due to shifting, expansion and sunlight reflecting off the bottom. New ice is usually stronger than old ice.

*Avoid areas with protruding logs, brush, plants and docks. These areas absorb heat, weakening the surrounding ice.

*Avoid areas with multiple or intersecting cracks and standing water over ice. If the ice doesn’t look right, don’t go on it.

*Always carry safety equipment such as ice picks, flotation device and safety rope, plus a whistle to call for help. A first aid kit wouldn’t be a bad idea as well.

*Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll return.

So far, the only lakes reporting any ice are the Tobyhanna with three inches as of last week and Promised Land Lake. Shohola too has some ice but no promising reports have surfaced as yet.

By the time you read this, these three and a few others should have more ice as forecasts are for below freezing temperatures for several days in the row. At that time, there should be some additional reports.

Next week we’ll cover ice fishing tips on equipment, lures and live bait choices, and hopefully, where to fish.

PRESS PHOTO BY NICK HROMIAK This ice fisherman managed to catch a bunch of panfish that make great table fare.