10 Important Ice Fishing Safety Tips

Step onto the ice with confidence in your gear and your judgment this winter.

“Once we have sustained cold weather to form good ice, ice fishing can be safe and a lot of fun,” said Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter. “But when we go onto the ice, we need to use good judgment and observe several ice fishing safety precautions.”

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Ice Fishing Safety: Essential Tips & Gear

1. Leave your car on shore.

Every year several motor vehicles go through the ice on Vermont lakes, and some people have drowned as a result. Instead of driving your gear onto the ice, pack a utility sled with your ice fishing gear to make fewer trips to and from the parking lot.

2. Share your plans.

Leave information with a family member or friend including where you intend to fish and when you expect to return. Within range of cell-phone reception, you can even drop a pin to share where you parked or entered the ice in the event of an emergency.

3. Wear a personal flotation device and don’t fish alone.

In the event of an incident, a personal flotation device (PFD) will keep your head above water until help arrives—which is why you should always fish with a friend or group.

4. Always carry an ice spud or chisel.

Ice varies in thickness and condition. One side of the lake or pond may receive more direct sunlight, or vary in ice thickness due to changes in depth.

Bass Pro Shops Ice Chisel

As you proceed, use the ice spud or chisel to test the thickness of the ice, so you don’t have to. A few hard jabs of the chisel will reveal the thickness of the ice before you step.

5. Ice spikes are a must-have item.

Carry a set of ice picks to help you work your way out onto the surface of the ice if you go through. Holding one in each hand, you can alternately punch them into the ice and pull yourself up and out.

A pair of handheld ice picks like these from the Frabill Ice Safety Kit are a smart investment no matter how thick the ice.

You can make these at home, using large nails, or you can purchase them in an ice safety kit. Just be sure to wear your hand picks in an accessible location, or attach them to a lanyard.

6. Use extreme caution near moving water.

Be extremely cautious crossing ice near river mouths, points of land, bridges, islands, and over reefs and springs. Current almost always causes ice to be thinner over these areas.

7. Melted ice? Keep off.

Avoid going onto the ice if it has melted away from the shore. This indicates melting is already underway, and ice can shift position as wind direction changes.

If the ice looks thin, broken or melted along the shoreline, err on the side of caution and keep off.

8. Open water = pack it up.

If you can see open water in the lake and the wind picks up, get off as soon as possible. Waves from open water can quickly break up large areas of ice, putting anglers at risk in a matter of minutes.

9. Always carry a safety line.

A safety line or some sort of throw rope can be tossed to someone who has gone through the ice. They are an essential ice fishing safety item, especially if the person is not carrying ice spikes.

Fox 40 Rescue Rope & Throw Bag

Fox 40 is a reliable manufacturer of outdoor rescue and ice fishing safety equipment; their rescue throw bag features 50 feet of woven, floating rope with a breaking strength of 700 pounds.

10. Heat your fishing hut with care.

Heated fishing shanties must have good ventilation to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Open a window or the door part way to allow in fresh air.

smelt shack with friends
Crack the door or window to let fresh air into your heated ice hut.

And last, but certainly not least important of ice fishing safety: bring your fully-charged cell phone with you. Many of today’s smartphones allow you to contact emergency services or send an SOS signal with the click of a button.

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4 on “10 Important Ice Fishing Safety Tips

  1. Larry Dupuis

    Don’t try to be the first person ice fishing this season. Usually all that gets you is a cold dunk in the lake. Four inches of good clear ice is necessary so your next of kin doesn’t inherit your insurnace and fishing tackle.

  2. beyondshangrila

    Amazing! how can people fish in so cold weather, I am not good with cold weather.

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