Ice fishing brings a few potential dangers that you do not experience when fishing during the warmer months. However, ice fishing is also a long-standing winter tradition throughout most northern states.
Instead of letting the danger keep you from fishing in the winter, you should learn the most essential ice fishing safety tips.
1. Let People Know About Your Fishing Trip
Before you head out to the frozen lake, let someone know where you are going. Tell your friends, family, or neighbors what lake you plan to fish and when you expect to be home.
Letting people know about your plans is an extra precaution in case something terrible happens on the ice, and no one is around to help. If your friends or family do not hear from you, they can contact the local authorities. This same advice applies to almost any road trip or vacation.
2. Dress for the Weather to Stay Warm
You are going to spend time standing in the middle of a frozen lake. Even if you sit inside an ice shanty or a small pop-up shack, the weather will be cold.
Footwear is the first place to start. Ice fishing boots will keep your feet and toes warm well insulated and still have the ability to breath a little. Grips are super important on your ice boots so make sure they have adequate soles.
Dress appropriately and bundle up. You may consider wearing thermal underwear for added warmth, and bring a couple extra pairs of socks.
3. Bring At Least One Pair of Ice Fishing Spikes
Along with cold weather attire, you should bring at least one pair of ice fishing spikes. These spikes are connected by a rope, allowing you to hang the spikes around your neck or attach them to your life jacket. If you happen to fall into the ice, you can use the spikes to work your way to safety.
The spikes are not the only safety gear that you should bring on your trip. As a final safety tip, make sure that you pack a life jacket or a flotation suit, a throw rope, water, a first aid kit, and matches. Hopefully, you will not need these items, but at least you will be prepared.
4. Bring One or More Friends on Your Trip
Unless you prefer the solitude of fishing alone on a frozen lake, you should consider bringing some friends along for the trip. Having people to talk to can help break up the monotony of ice fishing, while also helping to increase your safety.
Having at least one friend with you increases the number of hands available to help in case of an accident or emergency. If something goes wrong, you and your friends can count on each other to stay safe.
5. Ask the Locals about the Ice Conditions
When you get to the lake, you need to check the ice thickness before you start unpacking all your gear. You can ask the locals or check it yourself. The safest choice involves both options.
Start by visiting a local bait shop, grocery store, or the local authorities. Depending on where you are fishing, the lake may be managed by a local DNR office. If the land is privately owned, it may be managed by staff. Talk to people about the ice conditions and known danger spots.
Visually Inspect the Ice When You Arrive
If everyone agrees that the ice is safe, it’s time to visit the lake and check it yourself. When you get there, observe the ice and look for any signs of danger, such as weak spots or cracks.
You may notice water flowing near the shore or ice that appears to have refrozen after thawing.
These are signs that the ice conditions are not ideal for fishing.
The ice should typically be blue or clear. If the surface looks gray or black, it is likely melting and not safe for fishing or any other ice activities.
Drill a Hole and Check the Ice Thickness
After visually inspecting the ice, you may decide to walk out and find a good spot for your shanty. Walk carefully on to the lake and find a location to drill a hole. Use an auger to drill through the ice and a measuring tape to check the thickness.
If the ice is less than 4-inches thick, you need to come back some other time. Safe ice conditions start at 4-inches of thickness when traveling by foot. If you plan to ride an ATV onto the ice, it should be at least 5-inches thick.