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Ice Fishing Safety: A Guide to Staying Safe on the Ice

cracked ice

Winter is right around the corner and that means so is ice fishing season. In some areas of the country lakes are going to start freezing over very soon, which will allow people to finally get back out on the ice and have some ice fishing fun.

Before we can get out on the ice, especially during the beginning of the season since the ice will be fresher, it’s important to learn about ice safety. There are many things that will factor into if you will be able to fish on the ice yet. Today we will touch on some of the most important ice fishing tips that will help you from hurting yourself this winter. 

Is Ice Fishing Dangerous?

In a word, yes. All forms of fishing have a certain level of danger – sharp hooks, deep waters, and so on. Ice fishing is different, however, because it takes place on frozen waters. If the ice isn’t thick enough, or it’s cracked, you could fall through. Freezing waters can be difficult to swim in, and if you fall through you may come up to find ice in your way.

It’s vital that you stay safe while ice fishing! Follow our safety tips to ensure that you have an enjoyable day of ice fishing without putting yourself in harm’s way.

Ice Fishing Safety Tips

  1. Check for Safe Ice Thickness
  2. Know Clear Ice vs. White Ice
  3. Use the Buddy System
  4. Pack Safety Equipment
  5. Bundle Up
  6. Talk to Local Fishermen

Check for Safe Ice Thickness

The most important thing to keep track of when you’re going ice fishing is the thickness of the ice. The thickness of the ice will determine if it’s safe to walk on. It also influences what ice equipment you can bring and use.

Always make sure that the ice is at least 4 inches thick; anything under 4 inches is too dangerous to do anything and you will end up in the water. 4 inches is a good place to start, at 4 inches you can safely walk and fish on the ice.

The more equipment you plan on bringing will mean that the ice needs to be thicker. At 5 inches you can start bringing snowmobiles and ATVs. At 8 inches you can drive smaller cars on the ice, which will help you bring more equipment with you, like ice shanties. Make sure you are following the proper ice thickness charts to keep your trip safe.

Another ice safety tip is to determine what ice is new or old. New ice is stronger than old ice and is generally safer to walk on. Stay away from cracked ice, as it is not safe to walk on. Another thing that determines if ice is safe is if it is above running water. If there is running water underneath the ice then it will be weaker than if it is above still water.

Know Clear Ice vs. White Ice

Make sure you are also paying attention to what type of ice you are walking on as well. There is a difference in clear vs. white ice. Clear ice is much stronger than white ice, and it also melts slower.

There is an old ice fishing motto “Thick and Blue, tried and true. White and crispy, way too risky” – it is a good way to remember which ice is the safest to walk on. While 4 inches may be thick enough for clear ice, that is not true for white ice. White ice should be at least 8 inches for it to be safe to walk on.

Use the Buddy System

When you are going ice fishing, make sure you bring someone with you. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or another ice fishing enthusiast, make sure you bring along someone else along, because they may end up saving your life.

Some people like to fish alone, enjoying the peace and quiet. If you are all alone on the ice and something bad happens, however, you’re not going to be in a good position if there’s no one there to help you.

If you are that persistent about fishing alone, at least make sure that you tell someone when you are leaving, when to expect your return, and where you are going to be fishing. If something does happen to go wrong, then at least that person can call for help. This may sound all well and good, but if something goes wrong help could take a longer time to get there – and that extra time may mean life or death. It’s best to simply bring a friend to watch your back. 

Pack Safety Equipment

Having the right equipment with you can save your life if something bad does end up happening. Always make sure to pack a life vest and your ice fishing picks. These things are essential in case you do happen to fall into the water. The life vest will keep you afloat so that you can keep yourself from going under. The ice picks will help you pull yourself out of the water.

Ice fishing picks are spikes connected with a rope that you can water around your neck. They work by digging into the ice so you can pull yourself out, similar to something a rock climber would use.

There are other things that you can bring along to make your trip safer as well. Ice shelters give you a place to stay warm while your ice fishing. Make sure you bring your cell phone or a two way radio, so you can call for help if something goes wrong. ATVs and snowmobiles can also be helpful, if the ice thickness permits. Always bring a first aid kit as well. 

Bundle Up

This one may seem obvious, but wear your warmest clothes for your trip. If the lake is frozen that means it is cold out. You don’t want to get hypothermia or frostbite, so just make sure you are packing for the cold.

Be sure to wear ice fishing gloves to protect your hands. An ice bib or ice fishing suit can help keep you warm and dry out on the ice. You should always wear a winter coat, or a jacket made specifically for ice fishing. Hats are also important in freezing temperatures. Ice fishing boots and cleats will keep your feet warm and prevent slipping on the ice.

Talk to Local Fishermen

Local anglers or bait shops are a great source of information for your trip. They can inform you where is the best place to fish, ice thickness, water movement, etc. They can tell you the types of things that will not only make your trip safer, but help you find that monster catch you were looking for. Who else would know the area better than someone who has been fishing there for years?

Stay Safe Out on the Ice

Ice fishing can be a great time, but it can be very dangerous. As long as you are following the proper safety procedure on your next ice fishing trip, the odds of something bad happening will drop dramatically. While walking on ice may not always be safe, as long as you are taking the right precautions you’ll be as safe as possible.

We hope that you enjoyed our ice fishing safety tips. For more information on ice fishing visit Fishmasters. Learn more ice fishing safety from this video from The Fisherman Magazine

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