Dec 19, 2010

Ice Fishing Safety

Around my neck of the woods the hard water has arrived and it's time to start thinking about hitting the ice but before doing so a review of ice safety is in order.

The biggest questions is how thick is thick enough?  I can tell you this, I won't be the first person ice fishing, instead I will usually be late to the game just to be safe.  Most charts on ice safety use 4 inches as safe for one angler and gear and 7 to 8 inches for group activities.  It is also important to remember that ice thickness is not the same across the entire body of water soa  good rule of thumb is to check the ice thickness every 150 feet.  It's important to note that moving water like a river or a stream will wear ice from below so the view from above may be misleading. To be safe you should always check the thickness of ice and be aware of the under structure as well as this could affect water movement and the thickness in that area. 

What do you do if you fall through the ice?
  • Don't Panic and stay calm.
  • Do NOT remove your clothes as the trapped air can provide some extra flotation.
  • Turn back the way you came as you know that ice was safe.
  • Place your hands and arms on the ice and kick your feet to help you get back on the ice.
  • Once back on the ice stay flat and roll away from the hole.
  • Get dry and warm immediately.

What if someone else falls through the ice?  Practice Reach, Throw and Go.
  • REACH - Use something like a pole or branch to reach out to the person.
  • THROW - Throw a rope or PFD to the person.
  • GO - Go for help.  If you are the only other person present DO NOT try to approach the person yourself.

It is very important to be prepared for a day on the ice and to have items to help you out in a bad situtaion and to make those cold days a little more comfortable.  Something like a boat cushion not only adds a little comfort to your sit, but can be used to help someone who falls through the ice.  Here are some other items that should be part of your ice fishing gear.
  • Ice Awls like the Picks of Life can be a life saver if you fall in and no one is around to help and at the cost of less than $20 there is no excuse for not having a pair or two but if you can't afford the cost you can make your own with just some rope, dowels and nails.
  • Ice cleats or creepers that you can slip on over your boats that will provide the necessary traction to keep you vertical and stop the potential of a bad fall where you smack your head on the ice which from personal experience is NOT a good feeling.  Even some sand in a bucket can be handy and helpful.
  • A rope with a buoy on the end can not only be used to help tow your sled full of gear but can be used to help rescue someone who falls through the ice.
  • Extra socks, gloves or other clothing.  During a day on the ice you are bound to get a little wet and getting dry and keeping warm is a must for a great day on the ice.
  • Disposable hand warmers are part of every one of my outdoor gear packs as they provide quick and easy warmth when needed and inexpensive.
  • First aid kit including matches.  If you in a remote area you need to be ready for anything.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has one of the best Ice Safety Websites that I have found so take some time to review their website prior to heading out on the ice.

Some additional links with some great ice fishing safety information.

Make sure to review your Ice Safety and preparedness before your venture out for your first trip of the season so you can concentrate on landing the big one.

Happy Fishing and be safe and stay warm.


  1. Great post! I know as the waterfowl season ends the ice season starts. The clear black ice is very strong and the white snow pack ice is bad. I use the same chart when i teach the CARE classes. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Outstanding information and thanks for sharing. I may post this over on my blog also. You cannot use enough precaution while spending time on the ice. Ice users everywhere need to watch and adhere to the tips offered here. Thanks again.

  3. I don't ice fish, but I can recognize that the info you present should be lived by.


  4. Great post, and right on time. This is the time of year when folks start to get anxious about getting ice fishing or in my part of the world, goose hunting. It's also a time when the ice in many places, is weak, if it exists at all. I've had a few scary experiences while hunting on saltwater marsh ice, that I don't wish on anyone. The "picks of life' you mentioned are a great invention and well worth having with you, (provided you have them on properly etc) These days I wear a floater coat, whenever I am on the ice, fishing, hunting or 4 wheeling. If for no other reason than if it doesn't save my life, it might make it easier for the searchers to retrieve my body.
    I enjoy your site and absolutely love your header picture.

  5. @savage the CARE classes are a great addition to the outdoor education course in our state. As a hunter education instructor I understand the time and commitment so I thank you for doing it.

    @Mel I agree that we can never hear it enough so please spread the word on Ice Safety.

    @Rick & @Brk Trt - thanks for the comments.

    @Robert ICE fishing is the only time I enjoy seeing the crowds because I know the ice is safe. Glad you enjoy the picture of the Bear. I took that picture in 2006 down in the Delaware Water Gap are in New Jersey. Funny thing was we saw that bear above us and I had said to my buddy Busch Pilot - "Wouldn't it be cool if that bear walked down the stone wall"....And he did.