I’m typically careful and consequently, quite comfortable on the ice.
Right now, however, conditions are changing rapidly, and I’m overcome with an uneasy chill. “This ice is definitely not safe,” I shout over the roar of the air boat engine.
Sean Casper, the man behind the TGO camera, turns away from his eyepiece long enough to acknowledge my thought, then looks back just as the ice gives. With a sudden, crunching jar, I feel the boat break through into the icy, open water of Lake Winnebago, floating amid various sized, broken chunks and jagged shards of bobbling ice.
My eyes are wide as Jeff Schweitzer of the Neenah-Menasha Fire Department Dive Rescue Squad glances back at me, and I find myself surprised by his poised, professionally composed demeanor. As the boat lifts back up onto the pack, I realize why.
Jeff’s been in this situation before, under much more dire circumstances.
Fortunately, there’s little to worry about. I’m aboard one of the world’s most sophisticated, fully equipped dive/ice rescue boats; featuring a sturdy, Kevlar laminate hull and operated by a 450 horsepower, propeller driven engine. This boat has been specifically designed to operate under these conditions.
It’s also manned by a team of experienced, certified dive-rescue personnel considered among the best trained in the world–and we’re all safely clothed in insulated, water tight suits equipped with built-in ice picks.
I’m safe now, but would I be prepared for an emergency during a typical ice fishing outing?
Given the amount of time I spend on the ice, this is a constant concern. I’m extraordinarily careful, but not invincible. There’s never been an instance when I haven’t stepped onto the ice and felt at least some semblance of trepidation, simply because an element of risk is always present.
It’s for this very reason I felt this was an episode worth taping. Like anything else, ice fishing is a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility. If we’re going to promote ice fishing, I feel we must also review basic ice safety practices and measures.
The best way to avoid tragedy is to minimize risk in the first place—and, by knowing what to do should an incident occur. I sincerely hope you never witness an accident or become a victim, but the risk is real, so should the unthinkable happen, this is information worth knowing.