Harsh winter puts chill on ice fishing

ESCANABA — With the arrival of March, the end of the local ice fishing season is in sight.

“Everyone’s got to have their shack off (the ice) by the end of the month,” Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald said. As long as ice conditions are safe, however, people will be able to continue ice fishing past the end of March if they remove their shanty at the end of the day.

According to Chris Wahl, co-owner of Gladstone bait shop Bay View Bait & Tackle, there were no major problems with ice in the area as of Wednesday.

“Overall, the ice itself is good,” he said.

Even though this is the case, snow and slush have made it difficult for people to travel on the ice without snowmobiles.

“It’s actually keeping most people off of the ice this year,” Wahl said.

The situation has had an impact on business at Bay View Bait & Tackle.

“This is far and away the worst year we’ve ever had at the bait shop,” Wahl said. Normally, the winter months are the busiest time of year for Bay View.

Oswald said ice in the area has generally been decent for the winter of 2018-19, but this week’s rainfall could cause problems.

“Rain’ll cause ice to deteriorate. It causes the rivers also to start flooding … increasing the amount of water (in) the bay,” Oswald said, noting currents can eat away at ice from underneath.

Due to the effects of currents on ice stability, Oswald said anglers should avoid areas near local rivers and creeks. Other problem areas include Butlers Island and the tip of Gladstone.

People planning to go ice fishing are encouraged to check on ice quality and thickness before heading out.

“The bait shop’s going to know ice conditions … and (the) best spot to fish,” Oswald said.

Oswald went on to say people should coordinate with others before they go out on the ice.

“(The) best is to go with somebody, but if not … let people know where you’re heading and what time you’ll return,” he said.

While on the ice, anglers should take precautions to ensure they will be able to use their phones if they need to.

“Always put your cell phone in a Ziploc,” Oswald said.

People should notify law enforcement if they or someone they are fishing with falls through the ice, Oswald said. This is still the case even if they are able to get to safety on their own.

“Make sure (to) just call dispatch,” he said.