Everyone has heard the saying, “No ice is safe”. While true, this is not practical advice for many of us in Northern climates where playing or working on frozen water is part of our lives. Ice fishing, for one, allows many opportunities for disaster when the dangers of ice are neither appreciated nor prepared for properly.
Sometimes we tend to simplify the dangers of ice fishing, thinking of all the fun of catching “the big one” after drinking a case of beer with friends while downplaying or omitting altogether the inherent dangers. Life-or-death situations can and do occur and often without notice, so it is imperative to take sensible precautions prior to driving or walking on frozen water in search of the perfect winter catch.
Those who wish to participate in an ice fishing expedition should be in reasonably good physical condition and able to swim or to at least remain comfortable staying afloat. Should an emergency occur, such as your fishing partner falling through the ice, your physical condition and their ability to float could be critical. The ability to remain calm in case of emergency is crucial as well.
When selecting clothing, consider not only the elements of cold, wind and snow, but also your mobility should you fall into the water. Waders or hip boots can fill with water, creating additional weight and restricting movement. These should, of course, be avoided at all costs. Waterproof, ankle-length footwear which laces up is a good choice. Keep in mind what would enable swimming and floating with ease when selecting what to put on. By layering your clothing, you retain the ability to lighten yourself easily should the need arise. A wool hat is a necessity to retain body heat. You should also remember to wear a personal flotation device.
Check ice conditions before venturing out on any frozen surface. Ice thickness should be no less than six inches and should be determined in more than one area, as ice thickness can vary. The ice fisherman’s rule of thumb is “Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky!”. Always go out on foot before driving a vehicle on any ice surface, probing with an ice chisel in front you as you walk. Should the chisel ever go through, do not continue forward. Instead, carefully turn around and head back toward shore to return another day.
Loud booms and cracks may indicate nothing more than contraction and thermal expansion on a larger lake. However, on a river this sound signal may indicate imminent breakage or movement of ice. Always remain acutely aware of your surroundings when walking on any frozen surface. A group of individuals should proceed in a single-file line, leaving about ten feet between each person. Only after an ice cover has been accurately inspected should you drive a vehicle on it.
Ice conditions vary from region to region. Before venturing out on any frozen surface, take time to familiarize yourself with the area and to put simple precautions into place. If you are unsure about something, ask the advice of someone whose experience you trust. Above all, never go out on the ice alone and never go out on any ice whose safety is in question. By following these suggestions, your ice fishing expedition is guaranteed to be safe, if not fish-filled.