By AMANDA GRAY
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Ernie Borntrager slowly raised a finger and pointed at himself one recent afternoon.
He had just been asked if he knew anyone who had fallen through ice while fishing in the winter.
“That water was cold,” he said with a smile and laugh.
It was Super Bowl Sunday in 2003, he said. Instead of staying in, watching the game and eating loads of snacks, Borntrager made his way out to a not-so-frozen local lake and began to fish. He said he was out there for more than two hours before something happened.
Borntrager only went in up to his waist, but it was enough to get him cold and wet, he said.
Ice fisherman are beginning to dot local lake channels, Borntrager, who own’s Goshen’s Travel Tender, said. While bigger bodies of water aren’t freezing over yet, low water levels are helping fishermen get out on channels.
“I know of two or three channels where guys are getting out,” Borntrager said. “We had ice before where you could get out before Thanksgiving, but not for the last three years. Last year, it was a very short season.”
Borntrager said he can see up to a couple hundred customers a day during peak ice fishing season. They buy everything from bait to boots, ice picks to ice poles, he said.
Borntrager demonstrated one product he sells in his store. “Polar Picks” are worn under a coat on a piece of line, popping out of the end of sleeves near the wearer’s hands. The picks have hidden spikes that pop out when pushed into ice, which can help give someone a good grip if they fall through.
The ice fishing season used to run generally from the beginning of December through late March, according to Lt. John Karris, commander of District 1 of Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers headquarters. As winters have grown milder, though, the season has shortened greatly, he said.
“Last year, we had a very limited season,” he said. “It started in November, too, but I would say that’s an exception to the rule.”
Karris said there are normally one or two “episodes” a year of someone falling through ice while ice fishing, but that precautions can be taken by fishermen to reduce their risk of falling through.
“Always fish with a buddy,” Karris said as advice for fishermen. “Always bring a floatation device, and notify someone where you’re going.”
Karris said the safest ice is clear ice, with no air bubbles. The most dangerous ice comes at the beginning and the end of the season, as well as ice formed with snow.
“As the snow is in the ice, it traps in little air bubbles that can get heated by the sun, and the ice gets weaker,” he said.
Borntrager said he doesn’t give advice to fishermen who ask him about local conditions.
“When they ask me, I tell them that I’m not saying if it’s safe or not,” he said. “They need to use their own judgment. I definitely say don’t go out alone at this time of year.”
Darby Showalter stopped into Travel Tender recently to pick up fishing bait. He said he enjoys ice fishing as a way to get out and get some exercise in the winter.
“I usually wait until I see other people out, before I go out to fish,” Showalter said. “I usually only go places where the ice is thick and I’ve seen other people. I usually go out fishing with friends, too.”
Business to close
This will be the last winter for Travel Tender, Borntrager said. He and his wife, LaVerda, will be closing up their business sometime in the summer, he said.
“Most of what we have is 25 percent off now,” Borntrager said, looking around the shop.
He has been in business for 38 years, he said. There will also be no moussies for bait for a while, Borntrager said. The farms where he got his supply from in New York state were damaged by Hurricane Sandy, he said.