If John Steinbeck were looking at the St. Lawrence River on Sunday March 10, he might have been moved to write a novel about conditions above, on and below its surface. As a sequel to his 1937 novel about the unemployed and homeless men of the Great Depression, “Of Mice and Men”, his contemporary work would be titled “Of Ice and Men”.
By law, all the ice huts had been removed by March 1. However, regardless of the weather and sometimes disregarding common sense, anglers still ventured onto the ice, in search of something to put on the dinner table, or perhaps just in search of solitude.
On that Sunday I saw some pickup trucks parked out on Lake St. Francis! The sight of two anglers out on the ice emboldened me to venture out to them to catch a few late winter pictures. That’s when I was once again reminded that all ice is not created equal. One of the men decided to move away from the hole he had augered in the ice to explore the possibility of finding a location that would prove to be more productive.
His foot suddenly went through the ice, immersing his leg above the top of his tall rubber boots. Fortunately, he was able to catapult himself out of the icy water.
There are several factors that cause ice thickness to vary, water depth, current and proximity to the shore being the main ones. If in doubt, stay off the ice.
However, if there’s some urgency, such as a rescue attempt, requiring you to venture onto ice of questionable strength, carry a flotation device with you. If you drag a canoe or small rowboat beside you, it’s your refuge if you can scramble into it immediately. Better still, stay in the boat and pole yourself onto the ice. If the ice breaks through, you remain dry.
Best of all, during the shoulder periods of winter, stay off the ice if there’s the slightest doubt. Survival in the icy water of March is measured in minutes, very few minutes.