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Take precautions when ice fishing

A very happy new year to each and everyone. May you be blessed with health and peace.

The Pagosa Lakes Recreation Center is a busy hub these days, selling 2011 memberships and enjoying the smiling faces and rosy cheeks of our active members.

While warm-weather fishermen snuggle up to their fireplaces, the hardy breed of ice fishermen may be about ready to take on the ice and wind. Savvy ice fishermen tell me that winter shadows and low temperatures make hungry fish that lurk in the clear water under the ice. Trout, in particular, favor these colder, quieter months and are “suckers” for a fat worm wriggling from a hole in the ice.

Before taking to the ice, purchase a fishing permit. Be sure to check all regulations and confirm fish species possession and size limits.

In ice fishing, safety is the main concern. Ice develops on a lake in a little different way than in your freezer at home. When the water reaches 32 degrees F, water molecules cluster together and eventually become a solid. As the air temperature drops, the water underneath becomes ice. The ice thickens downward from the water’s surface.

The general rule of ice thickness: two-inch thick ice is not suitable for an angler; three to four-inch ice is borderline for an angler of average weight; five-to-six-inch ice will support most fishermen. If there are several anglers, six to ten-inch ice will support the additional weight. The criterion for safe ice is five inches and clear.

One has to be careful, as there is more than one type of ice. It is important to recognize these differences to make safe judgments. Safe ice is formed when temperatures drop and consistently stay cold for an extended period of time — when a layer freezes on the water’s surface and works its way downward. The layer of ice on the surface insulates the water below and only bitter cold air above will penetrate to form thicker ice. Safe ice appears glass-like or translucent when chipped.

Fogged, brittle or blue ice is dangerous. Warm weather causes the ice surface (in most cases, the surface is covered with snow) to melt, only to be refrozen at night. The result is frozen slush on top of ice. The difference in layers, or strata (slush, ice, slush, ice, slush, ice), will appear to be frosted. The ice is dangerous when formed from the surface and its thickness is enhanced from above in the form of precipitation.

Later in the season, the ice becomes unsafe when the ice is sitting lower in the water. As the weather becomes warmer, the ice becomes unstable and develops many cracks. The once strong, stable ice that was lighter than the water below becomes heavier due to melting. The ice has achieved equilibrium with the water below, causing it to become heavier, less buoyant and no longer able to float as it did earlier in the season. The ice will now sit lower in the water and appear blue.

There is a fair bit of ice fishing activity taking place on our lakes. Those ice fishermen who were contacted were experienced anglers and had tested the ice as they went out by drilling holes and, because of the ice’s thickness, determined that it was safe.

There is also some ski-skating and ice-skating taking place on Lake Forest and Lake Pagosa. Ice conditions in those particular areas being used are good (and regularly monitored by the users). But conditions near the aerators are not safe. Any time you are on the ice, you do so at your own risk. Old tracks on the surface of the lakes are just that … it is no guarantee that conditions are safe for you at that point in time.

If you see a situation where you feel there is a safety issue on the lakes, such as unattended children, people too close to open water aerator holes (within 75 feet), free-running dogs, etc., call dispatch at 264-2131 and someone will be sent to investigate. If someone has fallen through the ice, call 911 immediately — do not attempt a rescue yourself.

2011 fishing permits for lakes Hatcher, Pagosa, Forest and Village are now on sale at the recreation center and PLPOA administrative office.