Ice Fishing Safety Tips – 16 Must-Read Tips for Every Ice Fisherman


There’s only one thing that I want more than for you to catch lots of fish when ice fishing. That is for you to return home safe and well after a great day.

Ice fishing is pretty safe, provided you follow some simple (and often common sense) rules. Such as?

Well, today, I will show you as I show you some ice fishing safety tips to make your day much safer and, therefore, more enjoyable.

Let’s get started.

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TOP 16 Must-Read Ice Fishing Safety Tips

Most of the ice fishing safety tips you’ll find below are pretty common sense, but you’ll be amazed at some of the injuries people sustain year on year.

But let me tell you this…

Ice fishing isn’t dangerous as long as you think carefully and follow a few simple guidelines.

Want to know what they are?

Check this list out:

fishermen ice fishing on frozen lake

1. Don’t Go Alone

I appreciate it can sometimes be difficult to find a buddy to go with.

But.

You’ve got everything to lose and nothing to gain. If you take company and get into difficulty, there hopefully should be someone to raise the alarm.

Suppose you really can’t find a fishing buddy to accompany you (what’s wrong with those guys?). In that case, I’d advise that you stick to the more popular spots where you are more likely to encounter other anglers.

2. Location Details

Regardless of if you are going ice fishing in company or alone (in which case refer to tip #1), be sure to tell someone exactly where you are going and what time you intend to be back.

And there’s more…

Specify an exact time you intend to return. Give instructions that if you are not back by that time, that they should raise the alarm.

Oh, and before I forget…

Once you are safely away from the ice, call your nominated person and tell them that you are now safe. That way, they don’t alert the emergency services unnecessarily.

fisherman on the ice on the frozen lake with his equipment in a sled

3. Know Your Ice

All ice is the same, right?

Wrong.

The color of the ice can tell you all you need to know. Thickness is not the only measure of how much weight ice can hold. Different factors affect the color of the ice and can give you some vital clues. Here is all you need to know about ice color:

  • Clear – The best quality ice.
  • White – Older ice that may have partially thawed and refrozen.
  • Grey – Ice that is melting and is normally full of air. Avoid.

4. Keep Clear of the Current

Ever noticed how when you stir a drink with ice cubes, they seem to melt quicker. Water currents do exactly the same thing, except you are standing on top of the ice!

This will require some local knowledge of the venue on which you are fishing, but the best practice is to steer clear of areas where there is flowing water and currents. The ice will almost certainly be weaker and thinner.

The answer to all of the above…

5. Get Some Local Knowledge

Local knowledge is a literal lifesaver when it comes to ice fishing.

For several reasons…

Did you know that often the ice in the center of a lake or pond is thicker than at the edges, and areas of shallower water are more prone to melt first?

Where are those areas? Do you know?

If the answer to the above is a shrug, you should consider seeking some local advice. Local bait shops and online forums can be good places to start.

But…

Remember it will be you, not them, who will be stood on the ice. So make sure it is from a trustworthy source.

man wearing ice fishing bibs and jacket fishing on frozen lake

6. Avoid Snow Patches

I know what you are thinking.

Snow patches give a great grip on slippy ice. Why would I want to avoid them?

Here’s the thing.

Snow melts much easier than ice, and this meltwater can thin the ice underneath down. It also insulates the surface of the ice, meaning it is much more likely to be thinner in these spots.

Snow drifts also weigh a considerable amount. As a result, if you are standing on snowy patches, the ice has to bear both your weight and the snow.

Finally, snow can hide holes, fissures, and weaknesses in the ice.

The easiest way to avoid the above?

Steer clear of snowy patches.

7. Use Your Senses

When I talk about a ‘cracking’ day out, I mean the fishing and nothing else.

Use all of your senses to make assessments about how safe the ice is. This includes your sense of hearing.

Ice does creak and groans occasionally.

But.

Sharp and continuous cracks mean it is time to beat a hasty (and cautious) retreat to the shore.

8. Get a Grip

One of the leading causes of ice fishing-related injuries is sprains and broken bones.

Do you know why?

Slips, trips, and falls.

Ice is slippery, and you will need something to stop you from doing an impromptu backflip.

Like?

Easy, get a pair of ice cleats, and you’ll have rock-solid stability all day long.

It is worth noting that in a large number of cases, the force of a fall is what breaks the ice, so you’ll be safer all around if you can stay on your feet easily.

winter boots with ice cleats for better traction

9. Spread Out

Wait, I thought you said take company?

I did.

But you don’t all need to stand shoulder to shoulder.

By spreading out a little, you reduce the concentration of weight on a single section of ice.

How far should you spread out?

I’d recommend at least 5 yards between you and another angler.

10. Keep Warm

Here’s the thing about hypothermia.

It is insidious.

In its advanced stages, it actually makes you want to go to sleep!

Luckily it is pretty hard to get hypothermia, provided you are dressed properly for ice fishing.

Keeping warm makes the overall day more pleasant. As an aside, when people get cold, they stop making logical decisions.

Do yourself a favor. Wear appropriate clothing. As a minimum, you’ll want:

You can actually have quite a warm day on the ice.

How?

With a great ice fishing shelter!

ice fisherman with shelter on frozen lake fishing

11. Stay Afloat

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare to fall through a hole in the ice.

But there are a few things that will increase your chances of getting out safely.

I’m talking flotation aids.

Wearing clothing with added buoyancy is an absolute must.

Please don’t think you’ll be lucky. It only has to happen once and trust me, that water is cold.

Flotation aids and buoyancy devices mean that you won’t need to concentrate on swimming and focus on getting out of the water instead.

12. Choose Appropriate Safety Gear

There’s plenty of safety gear out there for ice fishing. While you might not need all of it, I’ll never say that you can have too much.

As a bare minimum, I’d suggest investing in a pair of ice picks. These will be a literal lifesaver if the worst happens and you go through the ice. You can buy some or even construct your own.

If you’ve never seen how they are used, check out this short video, it might save your life!

Is there any other gear I can take?

You bet!

Other ice fishing safety items might include:

  • A first aid kit.
  • A small ration pack (high sugar snacks are the best).
  • Flares (especially if night fishing).
  • High visibility clothing or vest (especially in busy areas with ATVs).
  • A portable walkie talkie or radio.
  • A flashlight.

All of the above are optional, but I make sure I have all of them in an easy-to-reach location at all times. In fact, if you want to check out a full list of ice fishing safety gear, I’ve got a great article right here.

Better safe than sorry!

13. Ventilate Your Shelter

Here’s one that lots of people don’t think about. Sadly it can have fatal consequences.

We all love a nice shelter, with the heater or stove on, right?

If your stove burns any type of fuel, you need to ensure that your shelter is adequately ventilated.

Why?

Two words.

Carbon monoxide.

It is called the silent killer for a reason. Carbon monoxide poisoning has these symptoms:

  • dizziness.
  • feeling and being sick.
  • tiredness and confusion.
  • stomach pain.
  • shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

In advanced cases, people fall asleep and never wake up. It’s an easy fix. Just be sure to have some airflow going through your ice fishing shelter.

a man is fishing on the ice in the winter

14. Hole Spacing and Management

Where and how you cut your holes is of vital importance for several reasons. Holes allow you to fish, but most ice angling injuries come from people falling or tripping in ice holes.

I’m a huge fan of cutting a few for sure, but you need to be cautious and plan where you intend to put them. For a detailed guide on cutting ice holes, check this out, but for now, let me add a few safety tips:

  • Clearly mark your holes if you are fishing over a wide area.
  • Don’t cut so many holes as to weaken the ice in one place.
  • Don’t cut holes along the route that you intend to exit the lake.
  • Don’t cut holes in well-trodden areas where others are likely to walk.
  • Don’t fill your holes with snow or loose ice when you leave (it creates weak areas).

15. Communications

I know I’ve already mentioned two-way radios, but there is something else you need to be aware of.

And I want you to remember this.

A piece of equipment is more vital to ice fishing success than any rod, reel, or line.

I’m talking about a cell phone.

A cell phone is essential. No cellphone, no ice fishing, it’s that simple. For a cellphone to keep you safe, it needs power.

And here’s the thing.

In cold weather, batteries drain much quicker.

I normally give mine a top-up on the way to the lake, but I also carry a portable battery just in case it needs a little extra juice.

Oh, and there’s also this.

Store your cellphone somewhere waterproof. It’s no good you taking a dunking, only to emerge cold and wet with no means to call for help.

The cheapest solution?

A Ziploc bag stored in an inside pocket.

But for complete peace of mind, go for a small dry bag or dedicated phone holder. And keep your phone on your person at all times.

close-up ice auger drill and fishing rod near the hole on the ice

16. If There is Doubt, There is No Doubt

My most important ice fishing safety tip, which is why I have left it until last.

It goes a little like this.

If there is a doubt, then there is no doubt.

Trust your gut and instincts. If something feels or looks dangerous, then there is a chance that it probably is. If you aren’t sure, don’t take the chance. Save your fishing adventure for another day when conditions are perfect.

Summary

Ice fishing isn’t dangerous. If you follow a few simple rules, it is actually pretty safe. The key to having a successful trip is to account for the ‘what if’.

I used this philosophy when compiling my list of 16 ice fishing safety tips. Plan for the worst-case scenario, don’t take chances, and everything will turn out fine.

If you are looking for more information, I’ve got ice fishing guides galore. I cover everything from the best ice chisels to great trout lures for ice fishing and everything in between! Why not check a few out?

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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