What is considered safe ice?
Source: Don Herman of the Otter Street Fishing Club in Oshkosh
OSHKOSH — Unseasonably warm temperatures have eroded ice, causing hazardous travel conditions on Lake Winnebago.
It couldn't have come at a worse time, with thousands of people expected on the frozen pond this weekend for the final days of the sturgeon-spearing season and the Battle on Bago ice fishing contest.
Local ice experts say those venturing out on the ice should use extreme caution.
There are dangerous areas along roads that were plowed on the lake that are now covered with snow, said Don Herman, of the Otter Street Fishing Club in Oshkosh.
He said old sturgeon spearing holes left open and covered with snow are also a travel hazard.
"All the old roads had water sitting on top when the thaw came and the water eventually eroded the ice," he said. "I've been telling people to stay off of Lake Winnebago with cars and trucks unless you know where you are going."
He said snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are OK to use on the ice, but with caution.
Oshkosh resident Andy Karau knows first hand the dangers of traveling on the Lake Winnebago ice. A pickup truck he and his father were in Sunday broke through what they believe was a fairly large patch of weak ice. They were in the process of hauling a shanty off the ice near Wendt's on the Lake near Van Dyne.
"The original road and a secondary road were in poor condition, so we stayed away from them," Karau said. "There were no cracks or unmarked sturgeon holes that we could see."
The men were able to get out quickly from a passenger window, which Andy had left open for visibility purposes due to the snowstorm. They were about a quarter- to a half-mile from shore when the truck crashed through the ice.
Karau said he and his father, Ray, and a dog were able to get out of the open window immediately. The truck sank once the cab filled with water.
"It was one of the scariest things that I've been through. Everything happened really quickly," Karau said. "There wasn't a lot of time to react and things could have turned out different than they did."
Karau said they are trying to determine when they will be able to get the truck out of the lake.
Herman, who owns Sunk, Dive and Ice Service, said his business has been called to rescue 11 vehicles that have fallen through the ice since last Saturday.
"They were trying to drive on the old road and they're falling in," he said.
For the safety of those attending the Battle on Bago tournament, officials decided to move a large tent from the ice to the parking lot adjacent to Millers Bay in Menominee Park.
"There are concerns about the ice and our main goal is to have a safe and fun event," said Ross Fuller, an organizer and committee member.
Fuller said up to 1,500 people are expected to attend the ice fishing contest.
People who travel onto the ice are encouraged to use discretion and access lakes via foot traffic only.
Tournament officials also decided the contest will be opened to any Wisconsin inland lake.
"Some may be more comfortable with lakes they normally fish on," Fuller said. "If you are going to be out anywhere on the ice, be safe."
Doug Zellmer writes for the Oshkosh Northwestern.