This past weekend was a mixed bag for those hoping to recreate on Lake Contoocook.
While ice fisherman were able to compete in Pelletiers’ annual fishing derby on Sunday, members of the Jaffrey Ice Racing Association were forced to sit out another weekend, as ice conditions were not favorable for a pack of vehicles to be competitively racing.
“Safety is our top priority,” said Steve Denman, president of the JIRA. “We plowed the track on Friday, which caused he weight of the snow to sink an area of the ice.”
After being able to race for the first time this winter last weekend, Denman said the JIRA was forced to cancel their scheduled race after ice conditions weren’t up to snuff.
Before an ice racing season can even start, Denman said there needs to be a minimum of 12 inches of ice on Lake Contoocook. Three JIRA approved ice checkers will go out every weekend, chainsawing out a small chunk of ice to determine the thickness.
More so that ice thickness, Denman said there are other “common sense things” to ensure that the ice is safe for racing, namely ice quality. This past weekend, for example, the race was called off due to water seeping through the ice after piles of snow caused the ice to warp.
Overall, Denman has noticed a shift in the racing season over the years, specifically in the past ten years. What was once a January to February season has now become a February to March season. Denman noted that no races were held last year due to the ice not being safe.
Ice fishermen, on the other hand came out en masse on Sunday, congregating on Lake Contoocook for Pelletiers’ annual ice fishing derby.
Curtis Handy, a 25 year ice fisherman, said he came up from Massachusetts to try ice fishing in New Hampshire, as the ice conditions haven’t been as great in his home state.
Robert Hastings and his son Ryan, both of Troy, were out on the ice early, hoping to win the derby in their first year competing. Hastings said that in all of his years ice fishing, this year may have been the earliest that he made it out on the ice.
“It’s been an amazing year for ice fishing,” said Hastings. “Usually I’m not on the ice until January, but this year I was fishing before the end of December.”
When it comes to checking the safety of the ice, Fish and Game officer Bill Boudreau said that asking a local ice fishermen might be the best bet.
“You can never say that the ice is truly safe because there are always places to watch out for,” said Boudreau. “It’s best to ask a local fisherman because they likely know where all the weak ice is.”
Overall, Lake Contoocook offers better ice than some other ponds and lakes in the Monadnock region, according to Boudreau. Pool Pond and Lake Nubanusit are two areas that have been problematic in the past, as they typically have some open spots in the ice.
Weather patterns this year have also created some issues when it came to ice thickness, as patterns of warm and cold weather have caused the ice to grow and shrink as the winter has gone on.
“We had good, safe ice in December, but we had a warm stretch in January,” said Boudreau. “It’s been an up and down year because we have had several periods where we actually lost ice.”
NH Fish and Game has a number of guidelines on its website to stay safe on the ice.
Recommendations include: carefully assess the ice before stepping foot on it; being careful of areas with currents, which can lead to thinner ice; staying off the ice if the shoreline is cracked or squishy; watching out for thin, clear, or honeycombed ice; and staying away from large groups or driving vehicles on ice.
As a rule of thumb, the ice should be six or more inches thick to support individual foot travel and eight to 10 inches thick for snowmobile or ATV travel.