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Moraine State Park officials urge safety when ice fishing

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 8:03 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Boaters, swimmers and anglers flock to Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park, but the oncoming winter offers more of a niche recreational activity: ice fishing. Nine months after the death of a Butler man who fell through the ice while fishing, park officials are warning visitors to use their common sense and best judgment if the ice freezes over.

Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Butler County — a popular spot for swimming, boating and fishing during the warmer months — offers recreational opportunities in the cold weather,too.

And hazards.

Kenneth Andres, 73, of Butler was ice fishing alone in March when he fell through the ice and died.

“If we know there is weak ice, we will put signs up,” said Jake Weiland, the park's assistant manager. But because the park has only eight rangers to cover nearly 17,000 acres and they don't all work at the same time, “we have to rely on people using good judgment,” he said.

Lake Arthur does not freeze over every year, Weiland said. Ice fishing is permitted Jan. 15 to March 15 but ice should be at least 4 inches thick for people to walk on it for fishing, he said. Driving onto the ice with any type of motorized vehicle is not allowed at Moraine.

On the same day Andres died fishing a section of the lake near Prospect, a number of people were ice fishing. Park officials said most left as the weather warmed.

“Ice fishing is a great winter activity. But folks need to recognize that there is a risk with it and need to be careful,” Weiland said. “We do not have winters like Minnesota or Michigan” where ice on lakes freezes solid for long periods.

Weiland said assessing the stability of ice is complicated and requires good intuition as ice rarely freezes uniformly.

“There are so many conditions that can affect whether ice is safe,” Weiland said. Among them are underwater springs that cause ponding on the surface. It also is difficult to assess the stability of ice when it is covered with snow, he said.

Other factors that can weaken ice are weeds sticking above the surface and aerators that conservation agencies use to put oxygen into lakes during winter fish kills, said Christian Ward, technical director of the USA Ice Team, a Wisconsin-based organization that sponsors ice-fishing tournaments.

“If ice looks at all questionable, don't fish it. When there are accidents, it is almost always someone who lacks experience. ... Use your eyes and common sense,” Ward said.

Many experienced ice fishermen go to the same place each year because they know where the body of water freezes first and stays frozen, Ward said.

Safety equipment for ice fishing, including ice rescue claws and ice picks, is relatively cheap, he added.

Ward, who lives in Minneapolis, described ice fishing as a recreational activity and a sport.

“It does not cost a lot of money. It is a way to get outside. It is a niche sport and does not have a big media engine behind it,” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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