Monday, February 09, 2009

134 Ice Fishermen Have to Be Rescued From Lake Erie

When I lived in Syracuse, Indiana, you couldn't drive past a lake, channel, or deep puddle in winter without seeing at least one insane person sitting on an upturned bucket, staring at a hole in the ice.

Ice fishing has always struck me as one of the craziest activities mankind could take part in. With the possible exception of ferret-legging (the Scottish "sport" of putting two pissed-off ferrets down your pants and seeing how long you can take it), no other sport seems to bring out the weirdos and committed (as in "he was committed to a mental institution for observation").

Indiana ice fishermen are a little weirder than most, because unlike Minnesota ice fishermen, they don't use shacks. At least not around Syracuse. Syracuse ice fishermen sit outside in upturned buckets, wearing two pairs of long underwear, pants, and the ice fiserhman's uniform, Carhartt coveralls.

I would drive past in my nice warm truck and shake my head at the loons sitting out on the ice, without a shack, tent, or even a lean-to to keep the wind from blowing on them. I was always convinced that we would have at least one fatality each winter (we never did) from someone falling through the ice. I did hear the occasional story of someone falling in a few feet from shore, climbing into his truck, going home to change, and coming back to find a new spot.

So I wasn't too surprised when I heard about 134 ice fishermen who needed to be rescued from their 12 kilometer (7.45 miles) wide ice floe as it drifted in Lake Erie Saturday evening. The fishermen were all rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and private helicopters and boats about 1,000 yards from the Ohio shoreline.

"We get people out here who don't know how to read the ice," Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said to reporters. "What happened here today was just idiotic. I don't know how else to put it."

"We were in no danger," Norb Pilaczynski of Swanton, Ohio told the Candian Broadcasting Corporation. "We knew there was enough ice out there."

Try telling that to the guy who died. He fell in while he and others were trying to find a way back to shore. Several other men performed CPR, and the guy was airlifted to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The CBC said in its article, "No one appeared to be scared, and most chose to sit and wait for authorities while others went searching for an ice bridge."

I will bet 100 American dollars that the guys who were "sitting and waiting" were actually "fishing and waiting" to be rescued.

I love fishing, and try to do it a couple times a year. But fishing is a summer sport, where the only thing that floats are my bobber and the boat I'm sitting in. If it goes floating away, I've got a motor and oars to return to safety. Plus I'm not going to die of hypothermia if I accidentally fall in.

The worst thing that's ever happened to me when I've been fishing is stinking like cigar smoke and bait when we return. And I won't die from that, unless my wife finds out about the cigars.

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