When is ice fishing safe?

Posted December 31, 2012 at 9:52 am

N.D. Game & Fish Department

Ice safety chart.jpg

When is ice fishing safe?

It’s the season when ice fishing enthusiasts are anxious to brave the winter and get ready for a little chilly sportsmanship.

Questions have been raised regarding when ice fishing in the area is safe.

According to Cory Flor, Hand County conservation officer, ice that is between two and four inches thick should be safe to walk on, provided it is “good” ice. Ice should be at least 12 inches thick, and “good” ice, before trying to drive a vehicle on to the ice.

Flor said as of December 18, he would term ice “poor” because of the rain that came about a week before and turned into ice, although he said there was about a four-inch cover of ice.

“Guys have been walking on the ice, but I would advise anyone to walk out cautiously and drill a hole before proceeding. Check the auger to make sure the ice is safe.”

According to “Ice Fishing Safety Tips,” put out by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, “good ice” is safe at three inches for one cross-country skier. At four inches, ice can support one angler with gear (200 pounds). Five inches should be able to support one snowmobile (800 pounds), and seven inches should be able to support groups of people, up to 1,500 pounds.

Factors for good ice formation:

• Steady sub-freezing temperatures…the colder it is for a longer period of time is bet.

• Calm days and nights.

• If there has been a lot of precipitation in the form of snow (or worse, rain) the formation of good ice is hindered.

• Shoreline plants result in thinner ice. Cattail stands and tree roots near the water’s edge can weaken ice and slow formation.

• Snow insulates ice, hampering solid ice formation, and makes it difficult to check thickness. Snow also hides the blemishes, such as cracked, weak and open water areas.


• Avoid cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signal thinner ice. The same goes for ice that forms around partially submerged trees, brush, embankments or other structures.


• Ice thickness is not consistent and can vary significantly even in a small area. Ice shouldn’t be judged by appearance alone. Anglers should drill test holes as they make their way out on the lake, and an ice chisel should be used to check ice thickness while moving around.


• Daily temperature changes cause ice to expand and contract, affecting its strength.

Ice fishing basics:

No ice is safe ice. Ice thickness varies across a lake. Avoid areas where there is flow (feeder streams and springs) or in-water obstructions (bridges pilings, docks, and dam structures), since ice is usually thinner around these objects.

Always fish with a partner or in an area where several other anglers are present.

Let others know exactly where you are going and when you plan to return.

Place a cell phone in a plastic bag to protect it from moisture in case you get wet.

Always take along a throw cushion or wear a personal flotation device in case of immersion.

Prepare properly:

Life jackets aren’t just for summer. Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) underneath your coat or overalls.

A long metal or metal-tipped wood pole (spud bar) can be used to probe unsure areas of ice, and can also be used as a walking stick when traveling on slick areas. There are many types of safety spikes. They can be made of wooden dowels and nails at home. By putting a nail into one-inch diameter dowels that fit into your hands, you have created a floating tool that could very well save your life. Connect the two dowels with eye-hooks and a durable cord to have them comfortably hang around your neck to be used at a moment’s notice.

In addition to a cell phone, a portable radio will help you keep abreast of changing weather patterns.

A 50-foot rope keeps a lifeline handy. By attaching a block of wood to one end, the rope can be effectively thrown out and floated to a person who is struggling in the water.

Keep dry clothes in the car. Keep a spare sweatshirt and jeans in the vehicle, along with some dry wool socks.

Know basic first aid. CPR and other life-saving techniques are the last step in safety. Have a first aid kit handy in your tacklebox, vehicle or ice shanty for minor and moderate injuries on the ice.

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