After reading your recent article about the fisherman who fell through the ice, I’d like to pass on a few safety tips learned from a lifetime of ice fishing with family and friends.
The main safety issue is whether the ice is thick enough to support your weight. Before venturing out on early season ice, you must first cut a hole near shore and measure the thickness of the ice. Anything under three inches is dangerous and three to five inches requires caution wherever you walk. Remember that lakes don’t all freeze at once, due to depth, wind and other natural factors. Unsafe ice can be just a few steps from good ice. An ice chisel should be your main tool for checking thickness as you venture out. These can be bought at a local sporting goods store or online.
Use your chisel to cut your ice thickness test hole. Then, if safe, strike the ice about every five feet with the chisel as you walk out. Listen to the sound of it hitting the ice, the feel of the impact, and the depth of the cut. If the chisel goes right through, stop and back up. The ice is dangerously thin. Also, look for visual clues such as open water, open holes or slushy areas on top of the ice. If you are fishing with friends, walk out single file, at least 20 feet apart, using the same track. Bringing along a throw rope is a very good idea. If you do fall through, immediately turn around, flatten out and swim/crawl back out on to the good ice where you came from. Do not try to get out going ahead as the thin ice might go for hundreds of feet. The longer you stay in the water, the faster you will lose control of your muscles due to the cold. You have just minutes to get out of the water.
So, if you have any doubts about the ice, after checking the thickness and observing the lake, it would be best to abort the day’s fishing and wait another few days for thicker ice to form. The fish will still be there. There’s an ice fishing drowning death every few years locally, and this can be prevented with better knowledge and a few safety checks.