Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What happens when the island melts?

My boyhood home was within walking distance of Lake Erie, and I spent many hours fishing in that lake.

But in my nearly three decades living up there, I never went ice fishing. I never saw the attraction, to be honest. It's cold enough in northeastern Ohio, just going from buildings to your car. Why sit out there on a frozen block of ice and shiver, just to catch the same fish you can catch in July?

Not everyone share my feelings, though, and thousands of people go ice fishing annually on the Great Lakes. Of the five, Lake Erie is the most popular, because it's the shallowest of the Great Lakes and, therefore, tends to freeze quicker and more completely.

Another reason why I didn't go ice fishing is because I don't like to swim in 33-degree water, and that's a threat on Lake Erie, when strong winds break the ice into floes and trap fishermen.

This is the time of year when it tends to happen. By late January or early February, the ice buildup has reached its peak.

Take a look at this link to the National Weather Service website in Cleveland. At the top of the page, you'll see a link to a series of satellite photos of Lake Erie, showing how the ice coverage increased in January. www.erh.noaa.gov/er/cle/

It's been plenty cold in that part of the world this winter, with temperatures in Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and London, Ontario, averaging about 4 degrees below average from Dec. 1 until early February. The result: the lake was nearly frozen over earlier this month.

Warmer temperatures and gusty winds this week will threaten to break the ice, sending floes moving out into the lake, and forcing authorities to rescue fishermen.

The most-publicized case happened Feb. 7, 2009, near Toledo. Winds blowing 35 mph from the southwest caused a huge chunk of ice -- more than 2 miles wide -- to break loose and begin floating toward deeper water. The U.S. Coast Guard and local sheriff's offices used air boats and helicopters to rescue more than 130 people.

"I was told the lake was frozen all the way across," said one 51-year-old angler who was plucked from the floating ice.

Stories at the time told of one fisherman who fell into the water and died. As it turned out, that man, 65-year-old Leslie Love of central Ohio, actually died of a heart attack and never fell into the water.

But it was a massive -- and costly -- rescue.

"We get people out here who don't know how to read the ice," Ottawa County (Ohio) Sheriff Bob Bratton told the Associated Press. "What happened here today was idiotic."

The whole episode was costly to some of those who were rescued, too. They went onto the ice with their ATV's, but in some cases, they left in a Coast Guard helicopter. Their ATV's floated out into the lake and eventually went to the bottom when the ice melted in the spring.

Nope. Not me. If I want perch or walleye, I'll get it at the restaurant.


Anonymous said...

Might want to confine ice fishing to Minnesota lakes- those guys can go into March before their trucks start braking through the ice-often with them still driving.

Ned from Nine Mile Point said...

I remember growing up near Oswego, we would go out on the ice and clean the fishing holes out with pitchforks. Whenever someone walked by and asked what we were doing, we told them we were "forking ice holes." And laff and laff.

Anonymous said...

Oh man I remember when that happened. I don't understand how people can do that! Just too cold!