PORT CLINTON, Ohio – Many of the 134 fishermen rescued from Lake Erie ice returned to the miles-long floe Sunday using rented air boats to retrieve left-behind snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and other equipment. A few ventured onto the risky ice to fish for walleye.
About 300 fishermen were stationed on stable ice not far from where the crack had opened Saturday, stranding the anglers about 1,000 yards from the Ohio shoreline.
"(The ice) is an honest 14 inches," veteran fisherman Pat Chrysler of Put-In-Bay told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in a telephone interview Sunday from South Bass Island. "I measured it with a Stanley tape measure, just to be accurate."
A Coast Guard helicopter surveyed how much abandoned equipment remained on the ice, but fishermen were responsible for recovering their own belongings, said Petty Officer William Mitchell, a Coast Guard spokesman.
"You'd have to be crazy to do that," he said of those who were fishing Sunday. "That's good to know that they're heeding the warnings, you know. I would definitely not recommend that at all, especially after what just happened. You know it's even warmer today."
Officials said some of the stranded anglers watched from solid ice while private contractors hauled all-terrain vehicles and other equipment off the ice.
A number of officials said the previous day's rescue went smoothly partly because agencies have trained together. But Coast Guard and local law enforcement officials said they would like to develop ways to stop people from ice fishing during dangerous conditions.
Many more people might have been stranded Saturday if veteran fishermen hadn't heeded weather warnings about warming temperatures and strong winds, fishing guide Pat Chrysler said.
Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton called for authorities to reconsider when civil penalties are assessed. Under current policies, a fisherman's name is recorded the first time he's rescued. The second strike leads to an ice safety class, and the third can result in civil action and fines.
Bratton said he wants to respect ice fishing culture while finding a way to recoup the county's financial losses and step up regulation.
Bratton estimated the cost of the response at $20,000 but said the rescued anglers wouldn't have to cover it.
"We're not looking to send you a bill at this point," said Harold Stanton, the fire chief in Lucas County's Jerusalem Township. "We're not looking to arrest you."
One fisherman died Saturday of an apparent heart attack. He had fallen into the water while trying to found a route to land and collapsed after being pulled back to solid ice.