Volume 90, Issue 70

Wednesday, January 29, 1997



OVERTIME: An angler's crack

By James Pugsley
Gazette Staff

Videos of people being air-lifted by rescue helicopters, pictures of a frozen lake swallowing vehicles, interviews with concerned and frightened citizens – this weekend's Lake Simcoe ice fishing fiasco had all of the footage of a natural disaster.

Should anglers be concerned?

Not at all.

As a fisherman and a nature enthusiast myself, I have had many opportunities to witness the power of ice and water – something the entire country watched Saturday when a fissure caught the greedy eye of the media.

Approximately 400 people were ice fishing in a derby off of Jackson's Point, a hot spot for trout and whitefish, when a big gust of wind separated one of the lake's many pressure cracks, preventing anglers from returning to the southern shoreline where they had parked.

Canadian Forces helicopters accompanied hovercrafts and police choppers to lift anglers over the crack and into a mass of microphones and cameras – an exciting way to end a day of fishing.

However, the cameras tried to make Simcoe into a horror film. Suddenly a natural occurrence was headline news. There was supposed to be suffrage, blood and gore – people were supposed to wave their arms and scream for help because the ice was too thin.

It didn't happen.

Why? Because the anglers know the ice is safe and pressure cracks aren't – the way it has always been.

The cracks are created by fluctuations in temperature, wind and ice strength that force the ice apart or together just as tectonic plates below the earth's surface do.

Did you notice that none of those "rescued" were frightened and nobody who stayed on the ice got hurt?

Ask yourself how those enormous helicopters were able to land on the ice and not become bottom structure.

Simple. This wasn't an emergency. There was a group of people who didn't want to walk three kilometres around a pressure crack, but that was about all.

The cameras made you believe otherwise.

There was failure to examine why this natural occurrence actually happened, nor was there any investigation as to why the anglers weren't concerned. Also, by making everyone believe all of the ice is unsafe, when in fact only about 1/100 of the lake is dangerous, the Canadian media has injured an entire group of people who had nothing to do with the incident – the ice fishing operators.

Lake Simcoe is the most heavily ice-fished lake in the world and has a vast number of commercial-hut operations. Nowhere else on the globe is there such an immense body of frozen water within 100 kilometres of a major metropolis like Toronto. As a result, Simcoe receives intense-fishing pressure – holding upwards of 10,000 huts at one time while generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the surrounding community each winter.

Here are the three most important rules for venturing on the ice safely:

1. Don't park vehicles near each other or close to a crack.

2. Always know the thickness of the ice you are on.

3. Do not take chances.

All but a few people followed these rules on the weekend and everything went well under the circumstances. Those who didn't got to enjoy a bus ride home – reflecting on the loss of their fish, which sank along with their trucks.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997