• Avoiding Weak Ice
  • Other Ice Fishing Precautions
  • If You Break Through
  • Ice fishing is a popular winter sport, but it can be dangerous if the angler is not cautious and alert. Falling through the ice and into the frigid water is at the very least unpleasant and often life threatening. Ice may be a foot thick in one area, yet only an inch thick a few yards away.

    Avoiding Weak Ice

    Stay away from gray, dark or porous ice spots, which usually indicate soft or thin ice. Look instead for blue-colored ice, which is usually thick and strong. New ice is stronger than ice that has experienced numerous warm and cold spells. Snow can either help or hurt the strength of ice—it can insulate thick, strong ice from warmer temperatures, but it can also insulate thin ice from the cold temperatures that would thicken it. Slush on ice is a sign of danger, because it means that the ice is no longer freezing.

    A general guide to ice thickness and safety is:

  • 4 inches of ice: safe to walk and fish on ice
  • 5 inches of ice: safe to snowmobile on ice
  • 8 to 12 inches of ice: safe to drive vehicles on ice
  • Other Ice Fishing Precautions

    Aside from staying off of weak ice, there are several other safety measures for ice fishing:

  • Always ice fish with a buddy.
  • Since ice thickness and strength can vary at different parts of a lake, walk out onto the ice with your buddy a good distance from you so if one falls through the ice the other can rescue them or call for help.
  • Carry a rope with you with a wooden (buoyant) handle tied to one end for pulling a person out of the water.
  • Always wear a life jacket and when leaving a hole, mark it so others will be warned of its existence.
  • If it’s absolutely necessary to go ice fishing alone, always carry ice picks or ice claws with ropes attached and secure them to your body, making sure one pick is readily accessible to each hand. These are used to pull yourself out of the water should you break through.

    If You Break Through

    Most deaths that occur while ice fishing are not the result of drowning but of hypothermia. If the ice should break, it will be only minutes before the body begins to stiffen and movement becomes extremely difficult, so you should act quickly. Move to the edge and stick the ice claws or picks into the ice, then pull yourself out of the water. You may have to break thin ice to get to thicker ice. If this doesn’t work, get into a horizontal position, get your arms and legs up on the edge and pull yourself up. After successfully pulling out of the water, roll or slide at least six feet from the hole before attempting to stand. Immediately seek help where there is shelter and means of getting dry and warm.