Ice fishing is not only a good way to pass the winter months and put food on the table, but it is also a fantastic way to get the whole family out of the house and enjoy some fresh air.
But you have to to follow some basic safety practices and bring essential ice angling tools to ensure everyone avoids accidents and injuries, and returns home safely.
Some of these tips are best described as common sense, yet they are the most important and the first ones you’ll forget once you’re at the moment.
So take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with these guidelines and suggestions before heading out to the frozen pond.
5 Things To Know Before Going On Ice
Know State Regulations
Don’t forget to check the local fishing regulations. They vary per state, as well as from one body of water to the next.
Fines for breaking the regulations can be steep. So take a few moments to check with the local Department of Natural Resources or Wildlife Management Office before heading to the lake.
Always follow the safety instructions when using a heater in a dark house. Propane heaters produce carbon monoxide, which is an odorless gas that can be lethal, so you need to vent your shack periodically to ensure the gas doesn’t reach dangerous levels.
Also keep other items away from the heater to avoid burns and fires.
Never go ice fishing by yourself. The buddy system has saved countless lives over time, and it is simply foolish to head out to the ice without a partner. Besides, ice angling is a slow activity that involves a lot of sitting around; a little conversation helps pass the time.
It’s also a good idea to tell someone back home where you’ll be going and when to expect your return. This way, they can send help if you do not show up when you are supposed to.
Correct Hole Diameter
Only cut holes (with the best ice auger) large enough to be functional to help prevent accidents or injuries. Most authorities recommend not to exceed 8 to 10 inches in diameter.
Additionally, safety issues aside, larger holes increase the chances of accidentally dropping a piece of equipment in the water.
Thickness of Ice
Always stick to the ice that is thick enough to support your weight. Many authorities recommend avoiding ice less than 5 inches thick when on foot, or 15 inches thick when attempting to use an all-terrain vehicle or a small vehicle.
It’s also important to realize that ice occurs in varying strengths. For example, clear ice is about twice as strong as slush ice or white ice. Water movement can also reduce the power of the ice, so use extra caution when fishing near inlets, dams, or creek channels.
Ask the locals about places with known thin ice and avoid them entirely. Often, bait shops near the lake have employees or customers that can provide this kind of information. You can also speak with other ice fishers on the lake.
Another way is to check ice thickness charts to give you general knowledge about it.
7 Gear Tips For Staying Safe While On Ice
Wear clothing that is warm enough for the conditions.
Hypothermia can transform a fun day on the ice into a desperate race toward the hospital. Minimally, you should wear a 3-layered combination, including a light-weight and absorbent base layer (such as long thermal underwear), wool or synthetic middle layer (like a sweater) and a water-proof shell.
Keep Dry ( Towels )
Stay as dry as possible.
Hypothermia can occur in temperatures as warm as 60 degrees when you are wet, don’t take chances with this. Wear water-proof footwear and try to avoid splashing water in the hole. It’s always a good idea to bring along a couple of towels to dry your hands and equipment as necessary.
Always have a mobile phone, radio, or satellite phone so you can contact for help or solicit assistance if necessary. Different technologies will be appropriate in various locations.
A simple mobile phone will suffice for ice fishing on a public lake in a major metropolitan area, but you probably won’t have excellent service (if any at all) while fishing a pond deep in the wilds of Montana.
In these kinds of situations, you’ll either need a two-way radio to contact local authorities or a satellite phone, which will work anywhere.
First Aid Kit
Bring a first aid kit as you should on any fishing trip. Injuries are just as common for ice anglers as they are for anglers fishing in warm waters. You need to be able to patch up minor wounds that occur.
Be sure that your kit at least contains: plastic bandages, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, medical tape, a few NSAIDs, and some gauze.
Wear a float coat or a flotation device while ice fishing. These will not only help keep you from sinking should you fall in the water, but they will also contribute to protect you from hypothermia.
Carry an ice pick (or two) to help you climb back out of the water, should you fall in.
Ice is incredibly slippery; plus your boots and clothing will only weigh you down. Both of these factors combined make it tough to climb back out of the water. So an ice pick is helpful to easily climb back on the ice.
Avoid snow-blindness by wearing polarized, UV-resistant sunglasses while on the ice. Snow-blindness is a very painful, debilitating condition which cannot only ruin your day of fishing, but it can also leave you helpless and stranded on the ice.
If your glasses break or fall in the water, you can make a pair of makeshift glasses:
- Cut small slits in a piece of fabric or cardboard.
- Tie it over your eyes with a string.
Common Sense Saves
Above all, use common sense to keep you safe while ice fishing. Although it is a secure and enjoyable activity, mistakes can prove quite costly. Always act deliberately and use an abundance of caution to ensure you have a great day on the water.