The shortest day and longest night of the year mark the official first day of winter. In North America, that occurs today (December 21). For most, cold weather and a lack of sunshine don’t exactly equate to a perfect day on the water. However, those who do brave the elements could teach us all a thing or two about winter entertainment.
By winter entertainment, I mean ice fishing. While the sport of fishing does span all seasons, there is a very different set of rules for those anglers who venture out on to frozen lakes, ponds and rivers. At the very least, there are some extra rules when it comes to ice fishing safety. Below, please find a few simple tips that will help to keep you safe – and hopefully earn you a great catch!
The first rule of ice fishing is dressing for the occasion. Be sure to wear layers that will keep you warm and dry. Gloves or mittens are especially important, since your hands will be your most important tool in reeling in that prize-winning fish!
Bring the Right Tools
- Wear a life jacket and bring safety equipment like ice picks that will provide you with some stability on the ice should you slip or fall.
- To prevent falling, wear some sort of ice creepers or cleats on your boots.
- Use an ice chisel to check conditions.
- All ice anglers should have a long piece of rope in case of emergency.
Test the Ice
Understand what kind of ice and how much will safely support you and your fellow anglers. Try to punch a hole through the ice to test the thickness. If you’re able to punch through in just a few strokes, it probably isn’t enough to hold your weight for any significant length of time. There are a variety of things to consider while testing the ice in your area:
- A minimum of three inches of clear, blue lake ice, and preferably four inches, will support a single angler.
- Five inches of ice will hold several anglers in single file.
- Eight inches of ice is needed for safe operation of a snowmobile.
- Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear lake ice, so anglers should double the minimum thickness figures when encountering such conditions.
- Ice weakens with age, and this is typically identified late in the season, when it turns dark and deteriorates.
- Seepage from groundwater or immediately adjacent rivers can cause weak spots in the ice due to movement. It is typically best to stay away from the shore and from places where waterways meet.
- Environmental debris also weakens ice. Therefore, dark spots should be avoided.
Stay safe and warm this season while out on the ice!