Just days before the start of sturgeon spearing season, an ice rescue team gives us a firsthand look at the danger looming on Lake Winnebago.
Ice rescue teams around the lake are worried they could be in for a busy weekend. Sturgeon spearing season starts Saturday, and thousands of people are expected on the ice.
But authorities say our extremely mild winter has left that ice extremely dangerous.
It’s a bumpy ride on top of Lake Winnebago’s rugged ice, and that alone poses a problem.
“With these ice conditions, it’s going to be challenging even for us to get out here quickly,” Mike Sipin of Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue said.
Sipin and Ryan Krings are part of Neenah-Menasha’s Ice Rescue Team. Their Husky Airboat is putting on a lot of miles this week, scouring the lake for dangerous ice.
As we find out, it doesn’t take long.
One mile off Neenah’s Rec Park, just north of Davis Point, our boat breaks through the ice.
It’s an eerie sensation.
“If this were a vehicle, once you’re in, you’re in; there’s not much you can do to get yourself out.”
We continue north towards the Menasha channel, a quarter mile off shore. Just two days ago this was all open water, Sipin says.
“This is going to probably give a false sense of security when people see the ice and know what the temperatures are.”
Sipin steps out of the boat to demonstrate the danger.
In the blink of an eye, he goes down.
“I didn’t start to hear any cracking under the ice until maybe a foot or two before it happened, and it was just like that going down.”
In just a short time these rescuers prove why their concerned about this year’s sturgeon spearing season.
They’re urging everyone to leave their cars and trucks on shore and to talk with local fishing clubs before stepping foot on the ice.
“The last thing we want to do, or any rescue agency wants to do, is to have to come out here and pull somebody out. It’s always a bad situation.”