HERSHEY — Through six inches of ice into water that varies between 38 and 40 degrees, the Platte River Scuba Divers braved the cold to install fishing habitat at the Hershey Wildlife Management Area southeast of the Hershey Interstate 80 interchange on Saturday.
The divers club was formed to give members the opportunity for fun and to be involved in community. The opportunity to get a grant to increase fishing habitat at the lake was incentive to practice winter diving.
Casey Sack, president of the club, and Deland Humphreys, board president, arranged for the dive to install the fishing habitat. Humphreys applied for the grant.
“Going under the ice is for the fish,” Humphreys said with a laugh. “I think it’s going to be excellent fish habitat.”
The grant came from Friends of Reservoirs, a nonprofit foundation that is dedicated to protecting and restoring fisheries habitat in reservoir systems nationwide. The grant is sponsored by King Enterprises, makers of Mossback artificial fish habitat product.
“We are actually the only member of Friends of Reservoirs in the state of Nebraska,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys said there were 26 applications and only three were accepted for the grant.
“The project is in conjunction with the Nebraska Game and Parks,” Humphreys said. “The grant from Mossback was for $1,000 and Game and Parks added another $250.”
Sack said the dive is a little bigger than what the club normally does through the ice.
“We usually just cut one hole and each take turns going down into the water,” Sack said. “Today, we’re splitting up into some teams because we have a total of three sets of fish habitat to install.”
He said the habitat is big and needs to be constructed under the ice as well. Three sets were installed at the lake. Sack described what it is like to go under the ice.
“When you are exhaling, the bubbles are rising to the top and they get trapped under the ice,” Sack said. “When you’re under the ice and you’re looking up, you can see the light and see your bubbles running like a psychedelic lava lamp or something.”
Two types of diving suits were used to go under the ice. One is known as a dry suit and the other is a wet suit. The wet suit is filled with water that heats up by the diver’s body temperature and the dry suit is warmed by the exhaled air from the diver.
Gene Stansberry and Joel Bennett, both of North Platte were the first two divers to go in with both wearing dry suits. Patrick Adamson and Sack manned the safety ropes as the divers entered the water.
“I have stayed under for up to 30 minutes before I get cold,” Stansberry said.
Bob Hochstein went in with a wet suit in the second hole that was cut for the occasion.
“I do it because it’s fun,” Hochstein said. “In the winter under the ice, it’s super clear.”
The holes are cut in a triangle shape so the fish habitat can be dropped into the water. When the divers are finished placing the structures, the club finishes up the process.
“We’ve cut a hole in the ice and then we’ve cut a hole in the corner of the triangle and attached a rope to it,” Sack said. “When we are all done, we grab that rope and we slide the big ice chunk back into position. We outline it with little pieces of lattice and cover it with tree branches so nobody steps on it or drives over it with a 4-wheeler.”