COLUMBIA — A layer of melting snow and slush covered Stephens Lake Park on Saturday afternoon. Although the lake was open for ice skating, it appeared untouched.
The sledding hill, however, was covered with families.
Columbia Parks and Recreation urges caution when ice skating or ice fishing and provides these safety guidelines on its website:
- Do not ice skate or ice fish alone.
- Avoid crowding into one spot on the ice.
- Ice skating and ice fishing are prohibited after dark.
- In case of emergencies, have a rope, ladder or pole.
- Inform others on the ice of unsafe conditions and areas.
- Be aware that ice thickness is not consistent.
- Avoid cracks, seams, slushy areas and dark areas that signify thin ice.
- Take care of ice around trees, logs, brush and shores that are not completely submerged.
- Never allow children to be on the ice unsupervised.
Stephens Lake Park and Cosmo-Bethel Park are open for ice skating and ice fishing, respectively. The ice has to be at least 4 inches thick for the lakes to open for winter activities, according to the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
The lakes opened Friday after the department checked the ice depth by drilling holes in the ice in different locations, starting at the shore and working inward to the center of the lake.
The ice on both lakes was 7 inches thick on Friday, according to the Parks and Recreation website. There is currently no specific information on how long the lakes will be open for ice activities, but the department will post updates online.
Even though the ice is not checked on weekends, that did not stop ice fishermen from trekking across it at Cosmo-Bethel Park.
Friday's fishermen left holes that were slightly iced over and dusted with snow, making it tricky to maneuver on the ice Saturday. The sun melted the fresh snow, leaving a layer of ankle-deep, watery slush covering most of the lake. Occasional patches of hard-packed snow were difficult to distinguish from ice.
About 18 fishermen were spread across the ice early Saturday afternoon. Those on the ice included college students, fathers and sons, amateurs and those who, carrying all kinds of gear, appeared to be experienced.
They were standing around waiting for the rainbow trout to bite.
“It’s a lot of waiting,” said Jeff Broeder, an MU senior. “It’s not much different than any other kind of fishing.”
Broeder was there with two friends from MU, John Klamer, a junior, and Andrew Bishline, a senior. Klamer has had experience with fishing, but not so much with ice fishing. He said he spends his summers working at a camp in Wyoming teaching boys and girls how to fly-fish.
Bishline, on the other hand, hadn't fished in a while. Taking his turn at the fishing hole, he missed two trout in a row when they nibbled and he forgot to jerk the line to hook them.
“This is my first time ice fishing," Bishline said. "I don’t really know what I’m doing too much."
In about half an hour, Broeder caught three trout. Others on the lake were just as lucky. A father and son left with their limit of four trout each after only 45 minutes.
Ben Hart and Jim Johnson were fishing just for the fun of it. Johnson said that after being stuck in the house for a few days, it was nice to get out and get off the couch.
“I hope I catch a 7-pounder today, but if I wasn’t out here I wouldn’t have a chance anyway,” Johnson said. “It’s good winter sport.”