By Jack Spaulding
Indiana ice fishermen watched the last days of 2021 go by with spring-like temperatures and not a sign of fishable ice. January edged in at first with similar warmth but finally dropped into ice-forming temperatures. Ice fishermen have become impatient waiting for “first ice” and the chance for ice fishing. Day-to-day up and down temperatures have brought frustration for anglers waiting for some good, safe, fishable “hard water.”
Fishermen are not the only ones waiting for safe ice. There will be others out, and it’s important to keep a watchful eye for other people who may venture out on neighborhood retention ponds, lakes and other waterways who might find themselves in trouble.
Every winter, thousands of Hoosiers safely enjoy fishing, skating, hiking or just sliding around on frozen ponds and lakes. However, every year people drown after falling through ice. Don’t let this happen to you or yours.
When thinking about getting on the ice, put safety first. Believe all ice is thin ice unless proven otherwise.
Here are a few tips to remember when considering standing on or walking on a frozen body of water:
• No ice without testing and confirmation is safe ice.
• Do not go alone.
• Test the thickness of the ice with an ice auger. At least 4 inches of ice is recommended for ice fishing; and 5 inches is recommended for snowmobiling.
• If you don’t know the thickness of the ice, don’t go out on it.
• Wear a life jacket or flotation coat.
• Carry ice hooks and rope gear.
• Before going on the ice, leave a note of your whereabouts with a friend or family member.
• Never attempt to test the thickness of the ice while alone.
Wearing a life jacket is especially important when on ice. If you fall through, a life jacket will keep your head above the water until help arrives.
Remember a new coating of snow, while perhaps beautiful, can make for treacherous ice conditions. Snow can serve as insulation, causing water to freeze at a slower rate. When snow and rain freeze into ice, it is not as strong as solid, clear ice.
Another potentially dangerous situation is when you encounter a pet or other animal in distress on the ice. If this should occur, do not go after the animal. Instead, contact local emergency response personnel such as the fire department, who are equipped to make a rescue.
A few more tips:
• Some bodies of water can appear to be frozen solid but have thin ice in several potentially unexpected areas.
• Flowing water, such as rivers and streams, should be avoided when covered by a layer of ice.
• Similarly, water surrounded by sand may freeze with inconsistencies in the thickness of the ice.
• Underground springs, wind, waterfowl and other animals can also keep areas of ice thin.
Dress for the cold, and enjoy the winter weather, but make safety a priority.
Eagles over Monroe Lake activities
Monroe Lake’s annual special event, Eagles over Monroe, offers a wide range of programs and activities for people to learn about the majestic bald eagle, from Jan. 22-30. The event includes a mix of small to medium-size in-person programs and hikes, a self-guided tour and scavenger hunt, as well as a virtual presentation on Facebook Live.
Details on event activities, including full descriptions and registration links, are available at bit.ly/eaglesovermonroe2022.
One of the featured programs is a conversation with Al Parker, a wildlife biologist who guided Indiana’s bald eagle reintroduction program. Al will share both history and personal stories during an informal discussion scheduled for 2 p.m. on Jan. 29 at Paynetown State Recreation Area. Space for this free program is limited to 40 attendees, with registration required by Jan. 26.
On Jan. 30, the Indiana Raptor Center will offer two live raptor presentations at Paynetown State Recreation Area, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The presentations will feature up-close looks at multiple raptor species, including both a bald eagle and a golden eagle. Each presentation requires registration by Jan. 27 and is limited to 30 people; there is a program fee of $5 per person.
A self-guided driving tour and scavenger hunt is available for free throughout the entire event period. An online map will guide you to some of the best spots for eagle viewing at the lake. A scavenger hunt, with clues hidden at select viewing locations, can be completed along the way, with a chance to win a 2022 Indiana State Parks annual entrance permit.
Sunset Eagle Watches are being offered on three different evenings for people who prefer assistance looking for eagles at the lake. Volunteers will have spotting scopes set up to view eagles and other birds, and hot cocoa will be available for attendees who bring their own travel mugs. Visitors are invited to drop by, no registration needed, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 26 at Pine Grove State Recreation Area, Jan. 28 at the Army Corps of Engineers Office on Monroe Dam Court, and on Jan. 29 at Paynetown State Recreation Area. The sunset watches are free, but donations will be collected to support future programming and events at Monroe Lake.
On Jan. 27, Monroe Lake’s naturalist will offer a live virtual presentation on the history of the Bald Eagle reintroduction program in Indiana. “Return of the Bald Eagle” will stream via Facebook Live at 11:30 a.m. The presentation will be recorded for anyone unable to watch live.
Special hikes are also scheduled throughout the week. All hikes are free but do require advance registration and have limited spots available. If a hike is full, interested people are strongly encouraged to sign up on the waiting list.
• Fairfax Birding Stroll, Jan. 22 at 10 a.m. (limited to 15 people)
• Winter Exploration Hike, Jan. 24 at 1 p.m. (limited to 10 people)
• Northfork Birding Hike, Jan. 25 at 10 a.m. (limited to 15 people)
• Bald Eagle Hacking Tower Hike, Jan. 26 at 1 p.m. (limited to 20 people)
• Bald Eagle Hacking Tower Hike, Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. (limited to 20 people)
Entrance to all State Recreation Areas at Monroe Lake is free during the winter months.
Most questions about the event can be answered by viewing the full activity descriptions, which are available at bit.ly/eaglesovermonroe2022. If you have further questions, please contact Monroe Lake’s interpretive naturalist, Jill Vance, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-837-9967.
Readers can contact the author by writing to this publication, or e-mail at email@example.com. Spaulding’s books, “The Best Of Spaulding Outdoors” and “The Coon Hunter And The Kid,” are available from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle download.