BAZETTA - As cold weather settles in and lakes begin to freeze over, ice fishers emerge from their warm-weather slumbers.
In a harsh winter, hundreds arrive at Mosquito Creek Reservoir to go ice fishing, according to Jackie King, assistant manager at Mosquito Lake State Park.
The rule of thumb to determine the time is right for ice fishing is there must be at least 4 inches of clear ice. Bodies of water across the area are beginning to reach this ''safety'' mark, Mosquito is just beginning its ice formation, King said.
"The base just started this week," King said late last week.
"It's available to people, but it's at their own risk," King said. "We'll just never say that it's safe ice."
King said while the park never measures the ice, most anglers determine when they will go out based on word of mouth within their community.
Ice-covered water is never completely safe.
Always go out on the ice with a friend; leave trip information with a second friend.
Wrap a mobile phone in a plastic bag and take it.
Watch wind chill factors to determine what the temperature feels like on the body.
Carry a whistle or other noise maker.
Dress in layers
Keep an extra set of dry clothes in your vehicle.
Avoid alcohol, which lowers internal temperatures and thus increases chances of hypothermia.
Source: ODNR Division
Much of this community is based online in forums. David Hoheisel of Westerville created www.icefishohio.com in 2009 to meet other fishermen, but never expected it to grow so large. The site currently has 900 registered users and is set to break 1,000 soon. According to Hoheisel, that is only 10 percent of the site's actual traffic per month.
"It's a close-knit community," Hoheisel said. "It's a social sport."
Hoheisel said that Ohio is on the outer belt of ice fishing since the ability to do so depends on weather conditions. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan have more ice-fishing-friendly conditions, he said.
Last year, ice was not thick enough to support fishing at Mosquito Creek Reservoir, but this year Hoheisel predicts will be a good year. Members of his site participating in a competition to choose the first day of safe ice were glad to finally find 4 inches at Indian Lake in Northwest Ohio near Lima on Wednesday.
According to Hoheisel, the stage of early ice is one of the most accident-prone times.
"Especially right now when there is snow on top of the ice," Hoheisel said. "Snow acts as insulation."
Hoheisel recommends the use of ice cleats and other safety equipment to be prepared on the ice.
Taking a friend along with you, keeping a distance between the two of you while walking on the ice, and wearing a life jacket to prevent drowning and guard against hypothermia are all safety suggestions from King.
"Another general guideline for ice fishing is to carry ice picks or screwdrivers," she said.
These tools allow the anglers a better grip on the ice if they do fall into the lake. According to King, most ice fisherman come prepared, which has helped reduce accidents like falling through thin ice.
"It's very rare, and I've been here 17 years and have never heard of it,'' King said.
Hoheisel is planning an ice fishing tournament on Mosquito Creek Reservoir once the ice has reached the proper thickness.