Ice fishing has recently come into its own as a winter sport or recreation activity, quickly gaining popularity around northern Arizona. To accommodate those who choose to fish during the winter, many northern roads are kept open all year, and some local merchants and resorts have extended their business season to include prime ice fishing months. However, wether you are a novice or a seasoned ice-fisher, before you grab your fishing gear and take to the ice, there are some precautionary measures you should take to ensure you are equipped for the dangers one might incur.
BEFORE YOU GO:
Never go fishing alone (especially at lakes inaccessible to traffic.) Make sure family and friends know your destination in case an emergency occurs.
Wear protective clothing in fabrics which will continue to protect, even when wet. Layering clothing to maintain a balanced body temperature is best using a thermal layer close to the skin to absorb body moisture, an insulating material for warmth (Polar/Artic fleece is a good one), and a protective, water resistant layer on top.
Bring an extra set of clothing and keep it handy in case you do get wet.
Carry a long pole to your fishing destination. It can be used to test the thickness and soundness of the ice, and it can prevent you from sinking if the ice does break.
CHOOSING A LOCATION:
The chart below gives a rough estimation of the amount of pressure frozen ice can withstand at varying thicknesses.
2 inches-one person on foot
3 inches-group in single file
8 inches-automobile (1 ton gross)
10 inches-truck (2 tons gross)
36 inches-36 tons plus
The Arizona White Mountains houses a number of popular and easily accessible Lakes for ice fishing. There are various factors to consider when choosing a location to fish. Depending on the severity or mildness of the season, some of the lakes in the lower elevations of the White Mountains may not be suitable for fishing. Lower elevation areas such as Mogollon Rim and Flagstaff-Williams lakes will only be safe if the conditions in the area have been steadily cold.
LOWER ELEVATION LAKES (6,500 ft. to 7,500 ft.)
Show Low Lake
HIGHER ELEVATION LAKES (7,500 ft. and above)
Big Lake (snow-mobile accessible only)
It is not uncommon for Arizona's winter nights to reach 0 degrees accompanied by day temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Temperature fluctuation can produce effects in ice making its structural integrity questionable. Ice which looks thick and solid may actually be riddled with water pockets and soft spots. Checking the temperature of the area you plan to fish daily will give you a good idea if the ice might be thawing, however your fishing area should ALWAYS be proven safe.
When choosing a place to fish, there are a few things you need to look out for before you cut. Slush ice is about half as strong as clear blue ice, while new ice stronger than old ice. River ice is 15 percent weaker than lake ice. As stated above, conditions are most hazardous when alternately freezing and thawing occurs. Continuous travel over the same route will weaken the ice. Remember to cut only small holes in the ice, preferably less than 10 inches in diameter. The holes should be large enough for a big fish, yet small enough to ensure a person cannot fall into it.
Drowning is not the only potential hazard ice-fishers face. Falling through ice at freezing/sub-freezing temperatures exposes the body to evaporation, cold-air temperatures, and wind-chill factors which disturbs the body's temperature, resulting in hypothermia. If you should get wet, change into dry clothes as soon as possible and gradually warm your body.
Doing a little preliminary legwork and taking a few precautionary measures can help make your hours of huddled anticipation safer and a bit more comfortable.
For information on lake conditions, call the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest at 928-333-4301 or White Mountain Hunting & Fishing at 928-338-4385
This article written by Carrie J. Wheeler