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Bring safety gear for early ice outing

This fish house on Lake George plunged into the water instead of resting on the ice due to a combination of some warm days and thin ice. Anglers should take precaution when taking their early ice voyages, ensuring their safety and turning back if ice conditions are sub-satisfactory. (Submitted photo)

It might be December, but it hasn't looked or felt much like winter.

Maybe Mother Nature is waiting for the official first day of winter on Dec. 21. Either way, ice fishing season has arrived and simultaneously hasn't.

Anglers are cautiously embarking on many of the smaller lakes, but some of the larger bodies of water aren't ready to support the weight of a single human.

In other words, even if you see other anglers fishing on a particular body of water, don't assume that the ice is safe to walk upon.

Such was the case on Lake George, where an angler had positioned a permanent fish house. After a couple warm days the house broke through the ice.

This isn't something that commonly happens, but as heat reflects from the exterior of the fish house, accompanied by wind that swirls around, ice can weaken and a fish house, especially during this time of the year when the ice is thin, can submerge.

Angler enthusiasm for ice fishing is at a seasonal high in November and December since everyone anticipates the opportunity to once again walk on water.

Keep in mind that no fish is worth someone's life. Diligently check the ice and don't make decisions based upon other people's experience. If someone says that the ice is safe on a certain lake - don't believe them. Check it out for yourself and if you don't feel comfortable, DON'T GO!

A number of safety tools are necessary when embarking on an early ice outing.

First of all, a personal floatation device is imperative. The automatically inflatable PFDs are comfortable and inflate once they contact water. Traditional personal floatation devices, otherwise referred to as lifejackets, are another option.

Spikes, those sharp tipped handles that help you escape an unfortunate immersion, are another important item to posses. The difficult part is training yourself to instinctively grab them if you break through the ice.

Hopefully none of you actually need ice spikes, but getting out of the water and back on the ice is the most important step toward survival.

Again, don't put yourself in a situation where you feel safe because you have spikes, wait until the ice has solidified beyond the minimal recommendations until you head out.

Finally, a good pair of ice cleats is a good investment with minimal cost. When the ice is snow-free or even worse yet, a fluffy layer covers the slick surface, ice cleats not only help you become more effective and efficient on the water, they provide safety.

You won't spin in circles while you're drilling a hole, the added traction will help you while providing the horsepower to pull your shelter and gear, and ice cleats can prevent injury, allowing you to fish the entire season instead of only a portion.

Kahtoola's Micro-Spikes are a superb option and are heavy-duty, easy to slip on, and are economical.

Once you finally do get out on a local lake, rejoice in the accomplishment. Be safe, be smart.