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Ice fishing safety

Last Updated: 23.09.23

If you are willing to brave the cold weather, ice fishing can be a fun and rewarding sport. There is nothing quite as exciting as reeling in a fish through a hole in the ice. Ice fishing can be done out in the open or if the weather is cold enough for long periods of time in a small shack or other type of protective enclosure. No matter how you choose to fish on the ice it is important that you consider your safety. Falling through the ice is uncomfortable, dangerous and can even result in death, and the following tips can help you stay safe.



Factors that affect the strength of the ice

There are several factors which can affect ice strength, and it is important to be familiar with each one to ensure your safety. Strong currents are often difficult to detect, but it can cause ice to erode from the bottom. This results in a thinner sheet of ice that still looks like it is thick enough to support heavier weights. The best way to determine if the current is affecting the ice is to check with local marine experts. Some of the more popular ice fishing spots often supplies information regarding currents and other factors.

Wind can cause ice to form unevenly, which can result in potentially dangerous conditions. Strong wind gusts have been known to cause previously frozen spots to break up, which can leave areas with open water. These conditions can be made even more dangerous if fresh snow has also accumulated on the ice. The snow can freeze into a layer that covers patches of thin ice. Along with paying close attention to the weather, it is also a good idea to speak with other fishermen before venturing out onto the ice.


Other factors to consider

If there are plants normally growing where the ice formed, it is important to test its thickness before placing your full weight on it. Decaying plants generate a small amount of heat, which can cause ice to thin dangerously. Other factors to consider include nearby natural springs and the amount of boat traffic. Some larger lakes commonly have tankers and large barges that break up the ice, and even though you are not in the path it can still affect the area you are fishing on. Timing is also important for safety, and newer ice is generally more stable than that at the end of the season.


Surviving a fall through the ice

No matter how safe you are accidents can happen, but it doesn’t have to turn into a deadly scenario. One of the first tips to safely ice fish is to wear several layers of clothing. This will help you stay warm and dry even if you briefly fall through the ice. The layers provide insulation that can prevent hypothermia from setting in.

If you do start to fall through the ice there are some steps you can take to minimize your exposure to the freezing water. Refraining from standing up but instead sliding across the ice can reduce your risk of falling through again, but if you do fall completely through the next steps you take will be determined by the type of water.



Shallow water

If the water is shallow you should be able to pull yourself back up onto the ice, and slowly make your way be to dry land. It is important to keep your wet clothes on until you are able to get warm to prevent heat from escaping and hypothermia setting in.


Deep water

Whether you fall through deep water that is calm or has a strong current the situation is serious. In best case scenarios a buddy system will be in play, but if you are ice fishing solo there are some steps you can take to get yourself to safety. Leaning forward as you fall can prevent you from going all the way through, and even give you access to your spud. The spud can be used to stop your fall, along with giving you something to hold onto. If the deep water has a strong current the most important thing you can do is never lose sight of your hole if you do fall through. If you know that there is a current underneath the ice, tethering yourself to a tree or your vehicle can save your life.


It is important to remember that while these tips are helpful, it is still your responsibility to ensure that it is safe to fish on any ice.


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