Pride was the only injury this weekend as dozens of Lake Erie ice fishermen found themselves cut off from land. The rescue effort took nearly 3 hours, and the Coast Guard has stated no one will be cited or fined.
Satellite images showed the extent of the ice breakup some days beforehand, aided by wind and temperature swings -- though you don't need a satellite to see the warning signs.
To walk on ice, it's recommended that it be at least 4 inches thick; anything less than that, and you risk taking an Arctic plunge. Vehicles require more, of course, with pickup trucks needing at least a foot of ice. Quality is also a factor; if the ice looks cloudy and grey, those figures should be doubled.
Consistent cold weather certainly helps with formation, but the frequent ups and downs for our local temperatures as of late has weakened that ice even further.
Snow cover doesn't help matters, acting as a blanket to insulate the ice and slow down the freezing process.
If you ever notice the ice cracking around you:
1) Lie on your stomach and spread your arms and legs. This will help distribute your body weight a little more evenly.
2) Stretch your arms over your head, bring them together, then roll away from the crack.
If you fall through the ice:
1) Do your best not to panic, and work on slowing your breathing rate.
2) Flutter-kick your legs to turn horizontal in the water, allowing for an easier angle to crawl out of the water from.
3) "Army crawl" with your forearms, testing the thickness ahead of you before standing up -- and risking another plunge.
Despite all we can do to have some risk-free frozen fun on the lake, no ice is safe ice. This late in the season -- and with highs approaching 70° later this week -- your best bet for ice fishing is to cut your losses and wait until next winter.