No one in the Fond du Lac area went through the ice during the sturgeon season opener on Saturday.
That comes as good news to local rescue personnel and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) representatives who have repeatedly warned spearers that the ice is thinner than normal on Lake Winnebago.
This year's unseasonably mild winter means ice conditions are less than ideal for spearing an ancient fish. Friday's blustery weather and Saturday's single-digit chill weren't enough to thicken the ice. It was too little, too late.
There was open water just off shore near Wendt's Marine and Wendt's on the Lake near Van Dyne on Saturday. But closer to the marina and restaurant and farther north, the ice was stronger and dotted with shanties. Spearers used snowmobilies, ATVs or their own two feet but left their trucks off the ice.
DNR Fish Biologist David Bartz said the ice was variable. Some parts were about 10 inches thick, others had noticeable cracks.
"Be cautious and use your best judgment," he said. "I never consider ice as safe."
As of Feb. 8, ice started at 9 inches off Fisherman's Road, according to information from the Fisherman's Road Fishing Club. One spot hit 21 inches, but the average count was about 12 inches.
Paul Schneider, a club member who helped with measuring the depths, said 10 inches is safe for walking or ATVs. Twelve inches can hold larger vehicles, but Fond du Lac hasn't had enough cold weather for it to be safe even at that depth.
Because the weather has been so mild up until the last couple days, the top of the ice has been snowy or slushy — not the best condition for carrying heavy vehicles. Rock-solid ice would be better.
DNR retiree Dave Paynter knows the Lake Winnebago ice isn't something to take lightly — his son went through it last year. Fortunately, he survived the ordeal. Paynter said ice conditions are no laughing matter — they're a matter of life and death.
The Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office didn't take any calls about on-lake accidents Friday night or Saturday. Lt. Rick Olig attributed it to greater awareness about ice hazards.
"There's been enough out there telling people to be careful. It seems like that's all people have talked abut for the past month," Olig said.