After rescue, fishermen return to lake
Many of the 134 fishermen rescued from a Lake Erie ice floe returned Sunday using rented air boats to retrieve left-behind snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and other equipment. A few ventured onto the risky ice to fish for walleye.
About 300 fishermen were stationed on stable ice not far from where the crack had opened Saturday, stranding the anglers about 1,000 yards from the Ohio shoreline.
The ice is “an honest 14 inches,” veteran fisherman Pat Chrysler of Put-in-Bay told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a telephone interview Sunday from South Bass Island. “I measured it with a Stanley tape measure, just to be accurate.”
“You’d have to be crazy to do that,” Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer William Mitchell said of those who were fishing Sunday. “That’s good to know that they’re heeding the warnings, you know. I would definitely not recommend that at all, especially after what just happened. You know it’s even warmer today.”
A Coast Guard helicopter surveyed how much abandoned equipment remained on the ice, but fishermen were responsible for recovering their own belongings, Mitchell said.
Officials said some of the anglers who were stranded the day before watched from solid ice while private contractors hauled all-terrain vehicles and other equipment off the ice.
Saturday’s incident began with fishermen setting down wooden pallets to create a bridge over a crack in the ice so they could roam farther out on the lake. But when the ice shifted, the planks fell into the water, stranding the fishermen.
“We get people out here who don’t know how to read the ice,” Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said Saturday. “What happened here today was just idiotic. I don’t know how else to put it.”
On Sunday, several officials said the previous day’s rescue went smoothly partly because agencies have trained together.
Coast Guard and local law enforcement officials said they would like to develop ways to stop people from ice fishing during dangerous conditions.
Many more people might have been stranded Saturday if veteran fishermen hadn’t heeded warnings about warming temperatures and strong winds, said Chrysler, a fishing guide.
Even in cold temperatures, the ice in western Lake Erie is often unsafe because of currents that can easily cause the ice to shift.
Ohio Division of Wildlife spokeswoman Jamey Graham said the state warns fishermen every year that there’s no such thing as “safe ice.”
“You have to know the weather,” Bratton said. “You have to know how to read the ice. It doesn’t take much for this to break.”
On Sunday, Bratton called for authorities to reconsider when civil penalties for ice rescue are assessed. Under current policies, a fisherman’s name is recorded the first time he’s rescued. The second strike leads to an ice-safety class, and the third can result in civil action and fines.
Bratton said he wanted to respect ice fishing culture while finding a way to recoup the county’s financial losses and step up regulation. He estimated the cost of Saturday’s response at $20,000 but said the rescued anglers wouldn’t have to cover it.
“We’re not looking to send you a bill at this point,” said Harold Stanton, the fire chief in Lucas County’s Jerusalem Township. “We’re not looking to arrest you.”
One fisherman died Saturday of an apparent heart attack. He had fallen into the water while trying to find a route to land and collapsed after being pulled back to solid ice.
Chuck Hasty, 65, of Holland, Ohio, had spent all week ice fishing and was one of those rescued.
He admitted that the possibility of melting ice was in the back of his mind when he set out Saturday morning.
“I thought we could get away with it for today,” he said. “When you’re crazy for fishing I guess, and the fish are biting, I just couldn’t resist it.”