Ice Fishing Safety

The last time there was thawing weather in northern Michigan, I spotted some individuals out on Boardman Lake. One must remember that ice can wear thin where there is a river running through. Did they think about that? Ice fishing can be fun but also a risky and a very dangerous endeavor. Ever since I was a child, I remember walking on the ice with my father holding the ice spud and checking every few feet. This is the right way to walk across the ice. Ice cannot be assumed to be safe; it wears thin wherever there are some springs and strong currents.

A few years back when the bay froze over pressure ridges formed. These look like massive walls of ice along the shore and are difficult to cross, especially since these may have open water on one side hidden. One of these ridges on Lake Erie had given way and the ice floated off with many fishermen to open water. They got on the ice by placing a board to bridge across. Ideas like these are not the wisest. Nature has tremendous force to move the largest slabs of ice over water. We see an example of tremendous energy when a new pressure crack forms. Perhaps you can remember the sound of one forming beneath your feet? It sounds like a massive boom from a drum and is felt like a little quake. I once had a boom just make me jump out of my seat!

I always make sure there is at least six to eight inches of safe ice. Bring the spud for sure especially if ice is thinner.  The best ice, according to the Michigan DNR, is blue, evenly formed, and crystal clear, while the worst ice is snow covered and crumbly, being half as strong. Expect a recent snow fall of several inches to possibly weaken the strength of hard ice, leaving a blanket that will even warm ice. When ice is soft and weak it is the worst time to go out ice fishing.  Even a couple feet of ice which begins to thaw is a scary questionable thing. Stay off of slush ice, please.

Another issue is staying warm while on an icy lake. What is too cold? I like to fish above 20 degrees Fahrenheit unless using a shanty. Some of us may not be inclined to hauling an ice shanty around or just won’t want to tote the extra weight. I suggest using a simple sled or bucket and for warmth when things are chilling, bring a simple Mylar coated emergency blanket.  I like to use mine as a solo cover from icy blasts of wind on my back. A good idea for everyone. Other safety equipment that should be included in any frequent ice fisher’s gear would be ice picks, in case somebody plunges through and needs to use the picks to get back on top the ice.  When ice is slick remember to wear ice cleats. The rubber band ones work well for a several trips, such as the Yak tracks, but the Yak Track Extreme are by far the best for traction and should not fall off easy. The rubber bands in less expensive pairs tend to wear out or will get a nick which will cause them to break. Other studded cleats tend to lose their studs as they drop out below.

Many people who go ice fishing use some vehicle of transportation on ice. The DNR recommends against taking the risk of using any heavy vehicles. Snowmobilers tend to drive too fast for their headlights. By the time the driver sees the open water it is too late. Slow down. Some people use guidelines for driving over ice but remember springs can weaken ice, uneven currents may leave a thin patch of ice, making it better not to.  Spring will be around the corner soon! Be safe!


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