MARBLEHEAD, Ohio — Northeast Ohio’s recent plummeting temperatures have been cold enough to cancel schools, create icy roads and force much of the region to seek refuge indoors. But even with days dipping below zero in some areas, the U.S. Coast Guard is warning outdoor winter sports enthusiasts about the dangers of thin ice.
On Thursday, Matthew and John Axford estimate they drilled nearly nine inches of ice from their fishing holes near East Harbor State Park. The pair was enjoying an afternoon of catching bluegills in a small inlet of Lake Erie.
“When it’s a lot colder for longer, we’ll stay out in the main lake for walleye,” said Matthew Axford.
The fishermen said they check local ice reports before identifying a spot to fish for the day and use a spud bar to probe the ice depth when they reach their destination.
“It’s pretty clear that it’s safe with all these guys out here,” Matthew Axford said, gesturing to dozens of shanties in the inlet.
At the Marblehead Coast Guard station, crews have observed a shift in ice coverage in recent days.
“In Sandusky Bay, it’s going to be a lot thicker than the middle of Lake Erie. [There’s] deeper water, more wind and more current affecting the ice,” explained Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Lakatis.
The certified ice rescue trainer demonstrated how Coast Guard members would pull a person out of the water if he or she fell through thin ice.
“[We follow] the 1-10-1 rule,” Lakatis explained. “You have one minute to get situational awareness, you have 10 minutes of meaningful movement and you have one hour til you’re unconscious.”
Lakatis encourages anyone planning to enjoy ice fishing or snowmobiling on Lake Erie to be aware of their surroundings first. Local fishermen reports often include details about ice conditions and fishermen should check their ice depths with a chainsaw, auger or spud bar.
“When you’re walking, if the ice starts cracking and water starts seeping through the cracks, that’s going to indicate weak ice and not safe,” added Lakatis.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, ice should be at least 4 inches thick for foot travel, at least 5 inches for snowmobiles and ATVs and 8-12 inches for cars or small trucks.
“We always say no ice is safe ice,” said Lakatis, explaining conditions like wind, temperature and current can all affect the solidness and depth of ice on the lake.
Most winters, the Coast Guard is called to rescue vehicles or people who are stranded on ice floes on Lake Erie.
Axford said he monitors the wind and other conditions before ice fishing.
“When it’s out of the south [and] a windy day, you don’t go out there because it breaks off and pushes out,” Axford said of the ice floes in the main lake.
He hopes the weather will continue to favor ice fishermen this winter.
“[It’s] just relaxing when you get good, safe ice,” he said. “[We] just take advantage of it.”
The Coast Guard reminds outdoor sports enthusiasts to immediately call 9-1-1 for water rescues and stay away from unsafe conditions.
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