Ice fishing is great exercise in the winter and the sport is enjoyed by anglers in the states where lakes, ponds and river coves freeze enough to support it. However, the sport holds some risks just from the fact that to engage in it you must traverse back and forth on the ice. Safety tips for ice fishing focus on using extreme caution when going out on the ice, preventing accidents from occurring, and being prepared for an emergency, such as falling through the ice.
Know the Ice Thickness
Know how thick the ice is before venturing very far out onto it. Using an ice auger or a tool called an ice spud to make a hole in the ice to gauge its depth. Do not drill only one hole and assume that the ice is a uniform depth all over the body of water that is being fished. Ice can be a foot deep in one spot and just 2 inches deep in another due to factors, such as the wind, currents beneath the ice and the presence of weed beds under the ice that absorb sunlight and weaken it. The U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory recommends drilling a test hole every 150 feet along the path that a person intends to spend time ice fishing.
Do not fish alone. It is prudent to always fish with at least one other person in the event of an emergency. Anglers should always let someone else know about their ice fishing plans, including the exact location of where they will be and when they plan to return.
An angler must be prepared to deal with falling through the ice, whether it is himself in the predicament or a fellow ice fisherman. Always carry a length of rope that can be thrown to someone who has fallen through. Safety spikes are ice picks connected by a cord that are designed to be worn around the neck. They slip through the sleeves of a coat and they can be used by an individual to pull himself out after falling through the ice. Tie a longer cord onto the sled used to transport equipment onto the ice. This allows you to push the sled to someone who has fallen through the ice. Do not wear waders or hip boots that can fill with water and drag you under the water. Personal flotation devices can be worn over or under clothing to keep a person afloat if he falls through the ice.
Walking on Ice
More people are injured in falls on the ice than from any other event. If there is snow cover on the ice then ice creepers aren't necessary, but if there isn't then ice creepers must be worn. They slip easily right over footwear and give an individual traction on the ice with a series of small metal spikes. Ice creepers however do not give a person a license to sprint around on the ice. Ice fisherman should still walk with great caution on the slippery surface. Be aware that any newly opened holes create especially slick conditions, even for people with ice creepers on.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a useful table that gives the thickness of ice and how much it can support. Nobody should go out on less than 4 inches of ice. If there is 4 to 6 inches of ice, it should be safe to ice fish and to travel in single file along the ice. ATVs and snowmobiles can be supported by 6 to 10 inches of ice.
Other Safety Tips
Keep a set of extra dry clothes in your vehicle in case you do fall in or get some part of your clothing wet. This will decrease the chances of hypothermia once you change into them. If you have a cell phone, put it in a plastic waterproof bag in case there is an emergency to prevent it from getting wet. Ice augers should always have the safety covers on the blades when not in use to keep children, pets and adults from cutting themselves on them. Be aware of the weather conditions before you go ice fishing and avoid ice fishing if you are not in good physical condition.