By: David Cohen

A close friend once told me “I almost died my first time I went ice fishing. I was completely unprepared for how dangerous the conditions and sport can be.” This made me much more conscious and aware of the importance of being fully prepared for any and all situations on the ice. My friend had a near death experience, one that could have been prevented by completely understanding winter conditions, the type of water you choose to fish on and what kind of equipment is essential to bring. On a much lighter note, ice fishing is one of the most enjoyable winter sports, nothing is better than the smell and taste of freshly–caught fish!

In order to know how to prepare for any situation you need to know your surroundings. Research the lake (or other body of water) you plan on fishing at in order to get to know the type of water, weather that will be hitting the area and the water’s surroundings. According to most states’ DNR guidelines, the minimum ice thickness should be no less than 4-6 inches for ice fishing. When the weather is calm, the ice will be more solid and frozen. Three conditions can slow down the rate in which a lake or pond will freeze: a large body of water, a high rate of salinity and being spring fed. Heavy snow and rainfall can greatly hinder the ice conditions and weaken areas, thus becoming hazardous.  An experienced ice fisher knows to avoid feeder creeks, springs and aquifers due to the moving water, which creates a less stable surface. If you are unsure of your current condition at your ice fishing location, contact a local tackle shop or fishing guide for more accurate information.

When going ice-fishing precautions such as “the buddy system” (never going alone) are not only life saving, but also a sport of this nature with dangerous conditions should never be attempted alone.  Many other devices you should bring when going to your favorite spot include a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD). If you do get submerged in freezing water, the cold water shocks your body, forcing a loss of breath, air in your lungs and hinders your ability to float, so having a PDF on hand can save your life. A 50 ft. rope is almost always a must; attach it to your buddy, your car or shelter in case of a crack in the ice or while testing new ice surfaces. Even when going fishing with friends or on a trip, make sure you leave a message with family and friends detailing where you will be fishing and the time you will be gone so that if no contact is made within a reasonable amount of time, proper emergency actions can be taken. Other items to think about packing include a spud bar, safety spikes, a portable radio, a complete first-aid kit, spare clothes and a cell phone for 9-1-1 related emergencies. Remember, if you do become fully submerged in the freezing water, your number one priority is to stay calm and get dry fast, to prevent hypothermia.

I do hope the information I have provided does not deter you away from ice fishing, since it is a great winter sport. The purpose of this article is to keep you informed and safe to prevent injury. Like all sports whether it is ice hockey, sledding, snowboarding, skiing, etc., there are many dangers and risks involved. Most of those risks can be prevented by proper knowledge/research on equipment being used, knowing your general surroundings and conditions. If you still have questions on your specific location you wish to travel, best equipment to have on hand or anything else related, please contact your local, knowledgeable suppliers or DNR agency. Most of all have fun, enjoy your surroundings, your friends/family and catch some fish!