Lake safety still a concern despite unusual temps

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 23, 2012

 An eager fisherman braves the cold on Wing Lake in Bloomfield Hills Jan. 20, looking for the first catch of the ice fishing season. Until last Friday, lakes around southeast Michigan were unfrozen.

An eager fisherman braves the cold on Wing Lake in Bloomfield Hills Jan. 20, looking for the first catch of the ice fishing season. Until last Friday, lakes around southeast Michigan were unfrozen.

Photo by David Schrieber

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While fishing rods and hockey pucks have sat in garages collecting dust, the many majestic lakes of our Great Lakes state have waited patiently for a deep freeze. The warmer-than-usual temperatures this winter simply haven’t allowed for much ice to develop.

“Ice fishing is popular in winter in Michigan. A lot of anglers are anxious to get out. But with the warm weather and rain, people are going to have to be patient,” said Lt. David Malloch of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. “It’s possible that we may not have a lengthy ice fishing season this year, if at all.”

Malloch says the lakes are still seeing a little action despite the lack of ice, but not much.

“There’s still people fishing and trapping. We’re seeing more this year than in years past because it’s not frozen over. It’s not a tremendous amount, though.”

Sgt. Patrick Hatfield of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol and Water Rescue Unit said he hasn’t seen many people out on the water.

“This year I’ve only seen one fisherman, and he was about 6 feet off shore.”

For those holding out hope that the ice is still on its way, Hatfield advises to always check to be sure the water is thoroughly frozen. He said the ice should be at least 5 inches thick to support skaters and fishermen, 8 inches for snowmobiles and other vehicles. If you’re not sure the ice is thick enough, Malloch suggests calling local bait shops by the lake, as they generally have a good idea based on how many customers they see in a given day.

And whether the water is frozen or not, it’s cold. That’s why boaters who chose to venture out onto lakes this time of year need to take extra precautions, according to Ron Simpson of the Birmingham Power Squadron. As the largest marine educator in the country, the Power Squadron is well-versed in boater and lake safety. For nearly 100 years, the nonprofit has been teaching courses in everything from basic boater know-how to advanced skills like celestial navigation.

Some tips Simpson suggested for wintertime boaters include dressing in layers, and wearing a life jacket at all times on top of other clothes.

“An inflatable jacket is more comfortable, but it needs to be on top of other layers. In cold water, there isn’t time to get a life jacket on. You could die before you’re able to get it on,” he said.

Simpson also suggested keeping a VHF radio with you so you’re able to notify the Coast Guard of an emergency, and keeping a wool blanket in the boat, as wool can keep you warm even when it’s wet.

More than anything, Simpson stresses the importance of notifying someone of your whereabouts and when you’re expected to return. Malloch agreed, adding that no one should ever venture out onto the lakes, frozen or not, by themselves.

You can learn more about boating safety and courses with the Birmingham Power Squadron by calling (248) 224-7235 or visiting www.BirminghamPowerSquadron.org. Courses in Oakland County begin Feb. 6 at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills and March 5 at West Bloomfield High School.

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