My little boy and I love to fish. During the summer evenings you’ll find us out on the river with our imagination under the water in hopes of catching that big trout. However, with the warmer days gone and the snow finally falling, we are thinking of trying our luck with ice fishing this winter. Ice thickness is the biggest factor to consider when ice fishing safely. So naturally, I wondered how thick the ice needs to be to safely walk on. After making several phone calls to local fishing shops and government agencies, this is what I found out. You may be interested in reading our other article “What To Do If You Fall Through The Ice“.
Ice Thickness: Government agencies vs Local Fishing shops.
Not sure if it was because fisherman are willing to risk a little danger in order to catch the next big fish, but the shops that I talked to all stated that 4 inches is thick enough for an average person with heavy snow gear to walk on the ice. If you plan on using a snowmobile to get out to your favorite fishing spot then the ice needs to be at least 6 inches thick.
The local government agencies that I talked to said that the ice needs to be at least 4.5 inches thick to properly hold the weight of an ice fisherman along with his gear. After all, you are drilling a hole into the ice that you are depending upon to keep you out of the cold water. Additionally, if you want to drive a snowmobile on the ice then the ice needs to be at least 6.5 inches thick.
So how important is that extra half inch? Well, the answer is, it depends. You see there are several other factors to account for when determining how safe it is to walk on.
- Ice Density
- Ice color
- Undercurrent or water movement
Review the chart below to better understand the other factors that can affect the quality and durability of the ice so that you and others can stay safe while out on the ice.
Have a Plan
If you do decide to go out on the ice, you should have a plan or a checklist to follow to ensure your safety. Below are some helpful tips to consider when making a plan.
Let Others Know
Tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you are expected to be back. Tell them when you will be checking in during your time out on the ice. Having a plan means that you know that if you are ever in trouble, help will be coming for you.
Check the Weather
Because water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, your trip largely depends on the weather and ensuring that the ice properly freezes over and stays frozen while you are out on the ice. This means that you should be checking the weather before and during your trip out on the ice. Look at the image on the right :the weather obviously warmed up and compromised the integrity and durability of the ice. Don’t be that guy! Check the weather!
Check With The Locals:
If the lake or pond is far away, it is a good idea to call the local shops or government agencies to get the latest report on the ice condition. My brother and I have driven over an hour to the lake only to find out that the ice is not safe to walk on. The local fishing shops or government agencies such as the Fish and Game office can provide you with the current ice conditions and any warnings or restrictions that may be in effect. The shops usually have someone there or have talked to someone who has been ice fishing in the last 24 hours and can give you the best answer, aside from driving out to the lake yourself and checking the ice yourself.
When You Get to The Ice
Even if you have called head and talked with someone at the shop, it is smart to stop and observe the ice condition before just walking out. Look for signs of others that have been out there before. Look at the ice for any cracks or signs of ice melting or changes in color or texture of the ice.
As you start walking out, drill a hole every so often to check the thickness of the ice. Ensure that the ice is always as least 4.5 inches thick and solid. The reason for this is because the ice is not the same thickness everywhere across the ice. Temperature, water conditions and other factors such as shade from trees or wind drift will affect the ice thickness and you want to ensure you are always safe.
When leaving the lake, follow the same path out that you used to come in because you know the condition of the ice there.
**Warning: Watch your step when going out on the ice, chances are, others have come before you and may have drilled holes the night or day before. You don’t want to step in one and get your foot soaking wet or worse, break a leg! Always be aware of the conditions around you to stay safe.
Because there are so many factors to consider when ice fishing, there is some safety gear you should have with you.
- Ice Fishing Safety Kit that includes ice picks, Ice Creepers or studs for your boots, and a safety whistle. There are several kit options online to choose from for a reasonable price.
- Quick Inflatable life vest- a lightweight life vest that easily fits over your coat. If you fall through the ice, simply pull the emergency draw line and the vest will inflate in 3-5 seconds allowing you to stay afloat until help arrives.
Amazon has some really good deals on Quick Inflatable Vests.