Early Ice Fishing Safety Tips

HuntFishMB Contributor – Chris Chorney

The countdown is on! As temperatures dip below the freezing mark, it won’t be long before less sizeable heavily sheltered lakes become covered in ice, initiating the beginning of another hard-water season. Many anglers relish the mild weather and aggressive bites that go hand-in-hand with the transition period commonly referred to as first-ice. Although the benefits have proven to be rewarding, allowing curiosity and excitement to lead the way can be a perilous choice.

I have spent a considerable amount of time over the years angling when ice conditions were less than favourable and found myself completely submerged in bone-chilling water on three separate occasions. The ill-fated feelings accompanied by the hypothermic water temperature have taught me through personal experience the importance of being prepared for a worst-case scenario. Taking a few precautionary steps and a bit of pre-planning could be all it takes to save a life and stay dry. Here are a few safety measures I personally utilize that have contributed to a greater number of successful trips.

The buddy-system has a proven track record. If you are heading out alone make a point of telling someone where you’re going and when you plan to return. Knowing your whereabouts is extremely helpful information when trying to locate a person if something were to happen. Keep a phone charged and within arms’ reach throughout the day.

Ice is consequently slicker this time of year raising the risk of a trip or fall. Purchasing a pair of ice cleats that can be strapped onto the outside of your boots definitely helps.

Although heading out alone should always be the last option, taking along a few tools can help ensure a safe day. A solid, long handlebar with a pointed end is ideal for checking ice thickness and avoiding weak spots. Screw in ice picks (tent pegs) and rope are beneficial when aiding in the rescue of someone who has broken through the ice and/or retrieving gear from a distance.

Getting familiarized with the location you plan to visit is always best. Higher-risk areas are ones susceptible to high winds, current, freshwater springs and shorelines that accumulate more sunlight throughout the day and may appear noticeably similar to any other area.

If you’re going out as a group, spreading out on the ice is a great way to disperse weight. When hauling your gear on the ice, use a sleigh and add extra length to your tow rope. A sleigh with a long tow rope will decrease the pounds per square inch of weight on the ice and distribute the weight of your body and gear.

Bring a dry change of clothes and stay near a heat source, removing wet clothing is the quickest way to increase body temperature. Purchase an ice-suit with built-in float technology and keep a set of ice picks in your pocket.

Staying prepared for a worst-case scenario is the number one way to prevent a mishap from turning into a tragic event. Accidents are never planned and have a habit of happening when you least expect it. Stay safe this season!