Craig briefs for Dec. 8

Anglers make safety top priority

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— Due to unseasonably warm weather in November, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is reminding anglers to make safety their top priority before venturing onto frozen lakes and reservoirs.

"Early season ice can be very dangerous," said Jim Aragon, Area Wildlife Manager in Salida, in a press release. "No fish is worth the possibility of breaking through unsafe ice."

Although some of the state's highest elevation lakes have frozen enough that ice fishing is safe, some eastern and western slope reservoirs are unsafe. As a rule, many of the water bodies found along the Front Range, on the eastern plains and in the western slope's Grand Valley never freeze solid enough to allow safe ice fishing. If they do freeze, it is only for a short time period.

Two things factor into how much weight ice can support - the quality and thickness of the ice. Clear, solid ice is stronger than milky, cracked or slushy ice. As ice ages, it cracks, discolors and becomes weaker. Typically, at least two inches of clear, solid ice is required to support one person walking and three or more inches are even better. Four inches of solid, clear ice usually is the safe minimum for ice fishing.

Ice thickness can vary widely on the same lake or reservoir. Springs, pressure ridges, snow cover, wind, water inflow and outflow and even the existence of waterfowl on a lake can all cause ice thickness to vary. Aragon recommends anglers systematically check the thickness of ice as they venture out. The first test hole they cut should be in shallow water.

Before venturing out onto the lakes, remember to follow these precautionary measures: Use common sense, test the ice thickness before you travel on it and use the following guidelines for safe and enjoyable ice fishing.

• Immediately following freeze-up, ice toward the middle of the lake is thinner than the ice along the shoreline.

• Beware of lakes covered with snow - heavy snow cover slows freezing and causes overflow.

• Remember that ice thickness is not always an accurate measure of its strength - clear lake ice is strongest and new ice is stronger than old ice.

• Keep weight spread out.

• Stay on traveled routes that indicate solid ice and also areas of good fishing.

Colorado reservoirs are notorious for fluctuating water levels. Reservoirs that receive water during the winter months can pose risks according to Aragon.

"Watch out for thin ice or open water around the shoreline at reservoirs that are filling," he said. "On the other hand, reservoirs that are drawn down are dangerous because an air pocket can form between the water and ice, causing the ice to become unstable. In any case, where reservoir fluctuations exists, pay attention to shorelines."

Aragon added that carrying safety equipment is always a good idea when ice fishing, such as a pair of ice picks or stout screwdrivers and a long piece of rope. Ice picks can give a person the grip they need to pull themselves out of the water, and the safety rope can be used to pull someone out. Attaching the ice pick to the rope will make it easier to throw.

"Never venture out on ice alone and be aware of quickly changing conditions that could make ice unsafe. Ice anglers should consult local sources for information about ice conditions before planning a trip," Aragon said. "Most importantly, anglers should rely on themselves to make each ice fishing trip a safe one by carrying the proper safety equipment and testing the ice carefully before fishing."

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