10 Ice Fishing Safety Tips
Being surefooted and having all the right gear makes common sense when heading to the frozen lake, but there are 10 ice fishing safety tips that may not be quite a well-known. Even so, they could just make the difference between staying dry and safe or getting wet and cold. Recognize ice fishing as the extreme sport that it is and do not get caught unawares.
- Sit out the first freeze. Ice fishermen chomping at the bit frequently head out to the lake after the first serious frost, but there are still warmer pockets of water under the ice. This most likely leads to uneven freezing. Wait until the second serious freeze when the ice thickens to at least four to six inches.
- Fish in teams. Going out alone is unnecessarily dangerous. After all, if you do fall through the ice, who will pull you out? Since the majority of ice fishing lakes is somewhat off the beaten paths, there is a good chance that hypothermia or drowning will kill you if you are a solitary angler.
- Wear a float coat with pockets. Acting as a flotation device in an emergency, this gear item gives you an extra bit of time to get out of the water. Opt for lighter colors; they may not be cool but are easier to see from the shore. The pockets are a must for carrying rope and spikes to self-rescue if trapped in the water.
- Map out the lake. Inlets and outlets generate below-ice currents. These ice fishing safety tips would be incomplete without reminding the angler that the ice is thinnest at these locations. Know where they are; in snowy conditions they are hard to find without a map.
- Know your water chemistry. Saltwater freezes more slowly than freshwater. Spring-fed lakes freeze slower as well. Another rule of thumb explains that large bodies of water freeze at a slower pace than smaller lakes.
- Snowfall or rain hinders strong ice formation. Stay away from lakes that are covered with a blanket of snow. It is difficult to tell how thick the ice actually has become. Rainfall warms up the ice to such an extent that it may not be as safe to head out.
- Know how to work the ice fishing equipment. Do some practice runs at home in the comfort of a warmer garage. Know how to set up the equipment, break it apart and store it. If you can do so under normal conditions, you are less likely to make a mistake in wet, dark or freezing environments.
- Carry a spud bar and use it. Little more than a stick with a sharp metal probe on the end, it helps to give you traction as you walk. More importantly, it lets you tap the ice ahead and see if any water comes up. This is a sign to turn back immediately since the ice is too thin.
- Beware areas where fish or waterfowl congregate. The body heat of the birds thaws the ice. Their nearness may also indicate a hole in the ice where it is possible to fish. Schools of fish that swim near the ice bring warmer lake bottom water to the top and thereby thin the ice.
- Don’t take one along for the road. Alcohol has no place in ice-fishing. In spite of the movies that glorify the use of booze to stay warm, alcohol actually causes a loss of body heat, leads to tiredness and results in a lack of judgment. None of these increase the odds of survival while on the ice.