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Iffy ice

It's a tragedy that Jackson County Sheriff's Sgt. Shawn Richards and his search-and-rescue staff train for regularly but haven't had to face in recent years — a winter angler falling through the ice.

"Knock on wood," Richards says from the Search and Rescue office in White City. "We train on ice rescues. However, it's a long way from the valley to high-mountain lakes."

Oregon's new streamlined angling regulations mean Hyatt and Howard Prairie now join Fish Lake, Diamond Lake and Lake of the Woods as ice-fishing destinations for Rogue Valley anglers.

In you plan to test the ice at one of these lakes this winter, there's a lot to consider.

Midwestern anglers have spent a lot of time and energy investigating when ice is safe, and generally they recommend that people stay off frozen lakes if the ice sheet is two inches thick or less. Minnesota natural-resources officials recommend a four-inch sheet of clear ice to support ice fishing, and they suggest that a five-inch sheet is thick enough to support a snowmobile or ATV.

Local ice fishers will notice that lake surfaces now are cloaked with a mix of snow, slushy ice that's refrozen and the main ice sheet. Don't trust the slush.

It's best to ice fish at lakes regularly monitored, such as Lake of the Woods off Highway 140 just over the Jackson/Klamath county line.

Lake of the Woods Resort co-owner George Gregory says there is a mix of snow, slushy ice and hard ice "that's a couple feet thick," including four to five inches of solid ice.

"It's probably the best we've had in five years," Gregory says. "We've been snowmobiling on it."

Still, Gregory advises people to drill test holes near shore to get a good idea how solid the ice is and remember that there is no 100 percent guarantee of safety on a frozen lake.

"I always tell people, if you're not sure, a life jacket is a good insurance policy," Gregory says. "Some people wear skis, snowshoes or use innertubes to spread out their weight."

Also, Southern Oregon's winters are full of weather changes and warm fronts, so ice that's safe in early January isn't necessarily safe at the end of the month.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Jeff Sebastian, of Roseburg, watches his son, Gavin Weaver, 23, battle a rainbow trout last year at Diamond Lake. Mail Tribune File Photo / Jamie Lusch