To maximize ice fishing safety when enjoying winter fishing outing, it is important to know a few things about ice. The sport attracts people to the frigid winter lakes in Canada and the northern United States. Some take it seriously enough to register for official competitions. But for most people, it is a way to enjoy time with family, friends and perhaps a bottle of schnapps, and ultimately a delicious fish dinner from the day’s efforts. But the seemingly harmless sport, which often involves hours of patient waiting in freezing temperatures, has risks of injuries.
The following supplies will help you to ice fish using basic supplies that you can carry with you in an emergency.
- Auger—there are both hand powered and electric augers to drill holes in the ice
- Ice Chisel/Pick—used to clear out slush from hole
- Fishing Pole
– Tip-UP Pole- can be made with wood or plastic. It has a long stick with a reel and trigger device. A flag is placed at the top of the stick using a spring. When a fish bites, the flag will bounce up and down (kind of like a bobber).
– Jigging Rod— a two foot pole that looks like your smaller, traditional fishing pole. You bounce the jigging rod up and down every few seconds to get the fish attention. Can be used with a jig.
- Bucket or Chair—so you can sit comfortably on the ice
- First Aid Kit
Always remember these following thing when deciding where to go ice fishing. And also remember looks can be deceiving. Always test the ice before going out to far.
- New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially thawed ice may not.
- Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
- Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
- The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.
- Booming and cracking ice isn’t necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.
- Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.
- Check for known thin ice areas with a local resort or bait shop. Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel, ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.
- Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible. If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry–keep windows down and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.
- Stay away from alcoholic beverages. Even “just a couple of beers” are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol makes you colder rather than warming you up.
- Don’t “overdrive” your snowmobile’s headlight. At even 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated the hole in the ice.
- Have the right ice fishing safety gear. Wear a life vest under your winter gear. Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. And it’s a good idea to carry a pair of ice picks that may be homemade or purchased from most well stocked sporting goods stores that cater to winter anglers. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to pull yourself back onto the surface of unbroken but wet and slippery ice while wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 pounds of water. Ice picks are vital ice fishing safety tools for pulling yourself back onto solid ice. Caution: Do not wear a flotation device when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle.
RECOMMENDED MINIMUM ICE THICKNESS
One of the most important ice fishing basics is that of following ice thickness guidelines. While most anglers know intuitively that thin ice can be extremely dangerous, fewer may know that white ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Follow the ice thickness recommendations below to maximize fishing safety.
- 2″ or less – STAY OFF
- 4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
- 5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
- 8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
- 12″ – 15″ – Medium truck
Note: These guidelines are for new, clear solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice to ensure ice safety.
ICE FISHING SAFETY WHEN TRAVELING ON ICE
1. Share your fishing plans. It’s a good idea to share your plans with your family, friends, or neighbors. Let them know:
- The name of the lake you’ll be fishing on;
- The location of your fishing hot spot (i.e. north shore, south shore, etc.); and
- When you plan to arrive home.
If the fish are actively biting and you decide to stay out longer, notify them of your change in plans.
2. Bring a friend. When going ice fishing, never go alone. A friend can:
- Provide an extra set of hands;
- Help you stay focused on safety; and
- Alert authorities if something goes wrong.
3. Talk to the locals. They can provide information on ice thickness, water movement, and other information pertinent to the lake.
4. Follow these ice thickness guidelines. Remember, ice is never 100% safe. Ice thickness can change very quickly.
2″ or less – STAY OFF!
4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
12″ – 15″ – Medium truck
5. Purchase a flotation suit. A flotation suit is the most important item you can buy. If you fall through the ice, a flotation suit will keep you warm and make it easier to escape the frigid water.
6. Carry a pair of ice picks/rescue claws. Keep a quality pair of ice picks with you at all times. If you fall through the ice, ice picks make it possible for you to climb out. Don’t skimp on this life saving device.
7. Carry a throw rope. A throw rope can be used to pull a fellow angler to safety.
8. Leave the lake before dark. Navigation at night can be treacherous. Without familiar visuals or a navigation device, you can become disorientated making it difficult to find your way off the ice.
9. Install proper ventilation. If your ice shanty is heated, make sure you have good ventilation. A poorly ventilated shanty can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
10. Bring a portable power bank battery charger. Cold temperatures can quickly drain your smartphone battery. A quality charger can save the day. I would recommend buying a high capacity charger. While they’re a bit more expensive, they can provide multiple charges, and can charge multiple phones at one time. To avoid permanent damage, turn your phone off in extremely cold temperatures.
11. Respect the ice auger. Ice augers are built to drill holes quickly and efficiently. Before operating it for the first time, read the owner’s manual. In addition, avoid wearing loose clothing or jewelry. When you are finished with the auger, store it in a safe place. Lastly, always maintain sharp blades to avoid injury while drilling.
12. Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is very important. Dehydration can happen quickly in cold weather because your body is working hard to stay warm. Check out “8 Tips for Hydrating in Cold Weather.”
13. Layer up. Selecting the right number of layers is important. Beginners to winter activities tend to underdress, especially if it’s a sunny day. Choosing the right number of layers, based on temperature, can only be accomplished through trial and error. Before venturing out on the ice practice at home.