Ice Fishing Safety
Ice fishing is one of the best activities to look forward to this winter. It provides a great chance to get out onto your favorite bodies of water and hone your skills in a much different approach and setting. No matter if you're a seasoned veteran or looking to start ice fishing for the first time, this is a list of essential safety items that you should consider having with you on the ice this season. Remember, no ice is 100% safe no matter how good the conditions or what others say. Many factors can cause unsafe conditions, and if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, these items below could be a lifesaver. Be smart and be prepared for a variety of scenarios, you never know when an issue could arise.
A simple and inexpensive piece of equipment that can save your life if you happen to fall in. Ice picks are generally hardened steel spikes used to jam into the ice to assist you when pulling yourself out of the water. There are many variations but owning a pair that can be worn around your neck for quick and easy access is the best and recommended option.
Ice is undoubtedly slippery no matter how agile or how often you walk on ice, you will inevitably fall. Ice cleats allow you to comfortably walk on the ice reducing the chance of slipping and falling, which can cause serious injury. There are many variations that allow you to slip them underneath your boots for quick and easy adjustment, be sure to find the right size that fit your boots. The proper fit will give you the most traction possible.
Spud Bar (Ice Chisel)
A spud bar is a long and heavy (5-10lb) steel rod with a chiseled end. When walking out on the ice, you want to continually use a spud bar to check the ice's thickness and quality. By slamming the spud bar down, you get a feel for the strength and quality of the ice. If the bar takes little effort or few strikes to break through the ice, you must proceed cautiously and avoid that area. This is a must-have for exploring the ice throughout the season, not just early and late ice.
Float Suit/Flotation device
Wearing some floatation device or suit should be considered while ice fishing. Float suits are built to help keep you afloat in the event you fall in. They are excellent pieces of clothing to wear fishing in the harsh winter climate. They are built to keep you warm but also very efficient for the angler providing a lot of pockets for storage and organizational use. Another option is a personal floatation device; generally a safe option to have when greeted with fresh early season ice or dwindling late-season ice. There are multiple variations you can wear, many are CO2 activated, whether manually or automatically as it meets water. They range from a low-profile life jack to belt-worn variations. Finding a source of floatation comfortable for you and that works best for how you fish offers some peace of mind as you venture onto the ice.
It doesn't matter how tough you are out in the elements staying warm is critical to your safety and survival. Having hand warmers nearby is a cheap and easy tool to keep you comfortable. There are plenty of options, from your standard single-use air-activated hand warmers that can be purchased from gas stations to sporting good stores as well as reusable or rechargeable ones. Another option is a portable propane heater that allows you to keep warm and cozy inside your ice shelter. If you fall through the ice or get significantly wet, getting dry and warm quickly can help prevent severe illness. Just make sure you have proper ventilation inside your shelter to avoid the build-up of fumes. Fun fact they also act as a great tool for heating up your food out on the ice!
Having the proper clothing and shelter is relative to your situation and conditions. When the temps drop into the single-digits with high winds, you want to ensure your skin is covered with the proper clothing to support such adverse weather conditions. It's recommended to fish inside an ice shelter to stay warm and out of the elements. Shelters come in many variations and technologies to fit your needs and price point. From single man shelters to ones that fit up to 8-10 people are offered in various thermal materials to help block wind and retain heat that keeps you warm and comfortable. Having waterproof clothing is almost a must when fishing in snow and slush because inevitably, you will get wet. A float suit can provide what you need with the added floating technology. Your hands will be the most difficult to keep dry, having suitable gloves and a source of heat or access to get warm is crucial to prevent damage to your hands. The proper socks and boots factor into regulating your body heat which in turn means your comfort level. Know the conditions you are stepping into and dress accordingly, having to shed layers of clothing is more efficient than wishing you brought more clothing if the conditions change.
This may not apply to many of us who never think twice about leaving behind our smartphones, but if you plan on leaving it home by chance, that would be a mistake. It can be used to call for help in emergencies of all sorts, whether on the ice or not. A tool that can check social media, apps, sites, and forums to stay updated on the ice and weather conditions while fishing. Always be sure to let someone know where you plan on fishing when alone, what time you are there, or how long you plan to be there in the event of an emergency. Some apps can be used to show you lake maps and contours that are used for avoiding dangerous objects and areas such as creek mouths, areas with current, and generally hazardous areas you feel could affect the ice. There are many waterproof phone cases or waterproof storage options to keep your phone safe from the elements. Having proper communication could be life or death for yourself or someone else. And let's be honest it's nice to be able to turn on Netflix every now and then while fishing.
Having a rope is something you hope you never have to use but will be glad you have it if needed. Carrying about 30ft of rope stored away in a sled, bag, or bucket could help save someone else’s life or your life in the event of falling through the ice. A good idea is to have a knot or multiple knots around each rope end. That way when grabbed onto while in or out of the water, there is something to grip instead of just the rope itself that can easily slip out of wet and icy hands. A tool you hope you never have to use but is necessary if the time comes.
No matter how seasoned of an angler you are, accidents and mistakes happen that are out of your control. Before stepping out onto the ice, make sure you take a second to access some of the items you are taking with you or leaving behind. I hope this will serve as a reminder and checklist while you prepare for your next fishing trip on the ice this season! Be safe and Fish On!
- Stan Miketa