There’s nothing in the world quite like the refreshing solace, intimacy and beautiful surroundings that come with ice fishing. It’s no wonder it’s one of Canada’s favourite winter pastimes. However, all the beauty in the world isn’t worth it if you seriously injure yourself – or worse.
Learning about ice fishing safety is perhaps the most vital element of ice fishing – and we take ice safety seriously. This is why we’ve compiled a list of the most important safety tips to remember when venturing out onto the ice.
- An extra set of warm, dry clothes packed in a waterproof bag. Toss a blanket in this bag for good measure as well as some candles and matches. Hand and foot warmers like Hot Paws are always a solid addition as well.
- A first aid kit. Store it in your waterproof bag.
- A friend. We know the idea of some alone time on a pristine lake may be your idea of heaven, but if you take ice safety seriously, bring a buddy. If you are adamantly against the buddy system, make sure someone knows exactly where you are (we really, really recommend against solo excursions, though). In fact, you should tell someone where you are going even if you have someone with you.
- Fresh water/food, in case you are out longer than you intended. You can store your water in a thermos to keep it from freezing.
- A chisel or ice spud to check thickness of the ice as you move out to your spot.
- A full set of head to toe cold weather gear. Snowpants, winter jacket, hat, gloves, scarf, warm socks, winter boots – everything. You can always take something off if you get too warm.
- Your emergency gear. Ice picks don’t do you any good in an emergency if they are tucked away in your supply bag and you are eyeball deep in ice. We recommend keeping your pick(s) in a place you can access readily. If you go through the ice, you don’t want to be trying to get into a pocket in a moment of panic. We recommend getting a pick that goes around your neck.
- A personal flotation device (PDF). It is amazing how freezing water can shock your system into inactivity. Wearing your PDF will help keep your head above water until you can collect your wits. Yeah, yeah, sporting a lifejacket may not look too cool, but neither does that permanently blue look.
- A safety line. Again, this is one piece of ice safety equipment that doesn’t do a bit of good in an emergency if you don’t have it on you. You should also make sure the person/people onshore have a safety line.
- About ice thickness. Ice needs to measure 3 to 4″ on foot, at least 5″ on a snowmobile or ATV, and 8″ to 12″ to support a vehicle. This said, we do not recommend driving vehicles out onto the ice unless you have a clear go ahead from designated authorities. In fact, we don’t recommend going out on the ice at all unless you have checked the ice watch from designated authorities. Word to the wise: If you are driving out onto the ice, don’t follow the exact tracks of multiple vehicles. Their weight will have weakened the ice along that trail.
- Your ice colours:
Blue to Clear: This is your best bet for ice fishing since it is high density and quite strong. Still, you’re going to want to stay off the ice unless it is 4 inches thick (10 cm).
White to Opaque: Not your best bet. The colour of this ice comes from water-saturated snow freezing on top of the existing ice. It forms another layer of much thinner ice. White to opaque ice tends to be porous because of air pockets, and as a result, is weak and unpredictable. Stay clear.
Light Gray to Dark Black: The sign of melting ice. It doesn’t matter if the air temperature is below 0, the ice is still melting and fragile.
Slushy or Mottled Ice: Also known as ‘rotten ice’. The name is especially fitting because it truly is rotten. Like a seemingly perfect apple, rotten ice can be thick at the top, but it is actually deteriorating at the core. You’re most likely to see this sort of ice in the spring. You should by no means take even one step on this ice!
- Your fishing hut. If you are using a heated ice fishing hut, we recommended cracking a window or door just a bit to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Heated huts need to have good ventilation, and while some do, it is better to be safe than sorry if you are not 100% sure about the working order of your shanty’s system.
- Your body of water. Fresh water freezes stronger than salt water, which tends to require a greater thickness to be safe. Large bodies of water also take longer to freeze than smaller ones.
- Caution around areas where there’s strong current. The ice will be thinner around points of land, islands, springs, river mouths and bridges. Also be cautious of snow on the ice. Snow insulates the ice and causes it to weaken.
- Total restraint when you see open water. Waves from open water easily break up ice, so don’t venture out onto this ice – ever. Same goes for ice that has melted away from the shore. It is incredibly unstable.
- Common sense. While ice fishing on a secluded or untapped area may seem ideal, the truth is you have no way of really knowing what ice patterns are in that area. Maybe there’s a reason no one else is out on the ice. Favour areas that are not only frequented by other anglers, but are also monitored by designated authorities on a regular basis.