13 Essential Ice Fishing Safety Tips


Rebecca Kelly

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Crack! Uh-oh…

These are not words you want to hear yourself say when you’re out on the ice, enjoying a day of ice fishing. Fortunately, you can protect yourself from getting into this situation.

The ice fishing season is almost here, and we couldn’t be more excited! Ice fishing is an awesome way to get out and enjoy the outdoors during winter. But to have fun and stay safe, make sure you’re prepared before you venture onto the ice.

1. Dress Appropriately

We can’t stress this one enough! Make sure you’re dressed for the weather.

There are times during the early spring when the ice is still thick enough to fish, but the weather is warm. But this is a rare occurrence. Most ice fishing trips are cold, cold, cold.

Dress in layers. Wear thermal underwear under your clothes to keep in the heat. Invest in a good set of thermal bibs.

Protect your head, face, and neck. Wear boots rated for the type of cold you plan to fish in. Make sure your gloves are thick and waterproof.

Gander Outdoors offers a full line of men’s and women’s clothing for every season.

2. Prepare Your Gear

Before you leave the house, check your gear and make sure it’s right for your day’s plans. If you don’t have a fish house, you need something to sit on so you won’t get too cold. A fold up chair or a 5-gallon pail turned upside down works great. It’s also a great idea to bring a small shovel to remove snow from the ice where you plan to fish.

Get your auger blades sharpened before you go. An auger cover is essential. Auger blades are sharp and the ice is slippery. You never want to leave your blade uncovered and risk injuring yourself.

And, of course, make sure your fishing gear is appropriate for ice fishing. Check out our full selection of online ice fishing gear. We’ve got everything you need for a successful fishing trip.

3. Check the Ice… Many Times

Checking the thickness of the ice is critical to a safe ice fishing trip. Before you drive or walk out onto the ice, go out a few feet and drill a check hole to see how thick the ice is.

Do this again after driving or walking a few more feet. It may take you some time to get to your fishing spot, but it’s worth the wait to be safe.

Remember these guidelines:

  • 4” of ice, okay to walk on
  • 8-12” of ice, drive a small car or ATV
  • 12-15” of ice, drive a small truck
  • Over 15” of ice, drive a large truck with fish house

4. Stop and Think Before You Drive

Driving on lake ice, even in a small ATV, is never something to take lightly. Before you drive onto a lake, stop and think about your actions.

Remember, the ice is never uniform all over the entire lake. Many lakes have streams and springs in them that cause the ice to get thinner or even open up.

Never drive onto a lake that you don’t know. Avoid driving at night. And never drive if you have any doubt about the ice thickness.

5. Don’t Forget Food and Water

Ice fishing takes a lot of preparation and setup. So make sure you bring plenty of food and water to sustain you during a long day of fishing.

Especially water. Just because it’s cold and you’re not sweating, doesn’t mean you’re not losing water. Dehydration on the ice can be a very serious problem, so make take care to keep yourself hydrated.

6. Avoid Alcohol

Ice fishing, like any hunting or fishing activity, can be a dangerous activity. You’re dealing with sharp tools, extreme cold, and isolation.

Alcohol only makes it more dangerous. And that’s not worth the risk.

7. Know the Water

Knowing the lake you’re fishing on makes the experience safer and more fun. Before you go out, talk to your local bait shop owner to get some tips.

The locals can usually tell you the best areas to fish and what areas to avoid. Let the local shop owners know where you’ll be and when you plan to be back in case you have problems. They’ll also know if cell phones work where you plan to fish, which is a helpful piece of information.

8. Charge Your Cell Phone

Cell phones are a great safety tool. Even if you don’t have service, which is common on many ice fishing lakes in the extreme north.

You can use your cell phone as a flashlight. And there are apps available that can send out a loud noise if you’re in danger.

Many times your navigation system works even if you can’t make a phone call. That way you can still look at a map. Download a compass app before you go to orient yourself if you get lost.

Even if you don’t have service, charge your cell phone completely before you leave. You never know when you may need one of its features to help you.

9. Set a Plan and Tell Someone About It

As we mentioned before, tell the local guide or baitshop owner where you’ll be. Or let your hotel know before you leave.

If you’re fishing near home, tell a family member or friend. Set a solid plan in place. Let them know what time you’re leaving and what time you plan to be back. And ask them to check on you if they haven’t heard from you by then.

Plus, it’s always a good idea to bring someone along with you. Fishing with a friend is a great idea, especially if you know you won’t have cell service while you fish.

10. If It’s Really Cold, Bring Your Own Fish House

That’s right, you can bring a portable fish house with you. They come in all shapes and sizes. And many of them have a heavy-duty sled attached to them so they’re easy to pull once you’re on the ice.

A fish house is an excellent idea if the temperatures outside are sub-zero. It keeps the wind off your face and gives you a place to huddle down if you happen to get stuck out on the ice overnight.

11. Bring Rescue & Safety Gear

It never hurts to have a few pieces of rescue gear in your ice fishing arsenal. Weather is unpredictable. You never know when you might have to stay out on the ice overnight. Here are some items you should have with you:

  • Lifejacket or float suit
  • Rope to tow a stuck vehicle or pull someone out of the water
  • Flares in case of emergency
  • Utility knife or multitool
  • Camping first aid kit
  • Fire starting tool

12. Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open

The most important part of ice safety is paying attention. Many accidents happen every year that could be avoided if people paid attention to their surroundings.

The color of the ice is important. Clear ice is the safest. If the ice is cloudy, it means it’s mixed with snow and is less sturdy that clear ice. Gray ice means there’s water mixed into the ice. Avoid gray ice.

If you hear ice cracking or heaving, get away and find a safer spot. You can also see cracks and streams in the ice. Never settle down where you can see a stream running underneath the ice. You never know when it might break through.

13. Spread the Fishing Love

It’s fun to watch movies like Grumpy Old Men where the ice fishermen set up a shanty town of closely grouped fish houses out on the ice. But that’s not the safest way to fish.

When in doubt, spread out from your neighbors. If you can’t share a good fishing spot because it’s too crowded, find another one. It’s not worth the risk of weakening the ice.

Ice Fishing Safety Is Up to You

Ice fishing is an excellent outdoor activity. It’ll refresh your mind, get you close to nature, and give you some breathtaking winter views. Plus, if you’re a talented fisherman (or very lucky!), you’ll get a meal or two out of it.

But taking the right precautions is essential to have a safe ice fishing trip. Remember, respect the ice at all times. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Never drive on ice that’s too thin or that you think might have cracks or streams in it. Always dress warmly and bring the right gear.

Come visit us at one of our locations to talk with an expert about your ice fishing setup. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie, we can help you gear up for a great time on the lake this winter!

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