Part of the camping experience involves other outdoor activities. Though we are nearing the end of the winter season, Ice Fishing is still an activity that campers may enjoy in many backcountry areas. Many state parks have lakes that are great for this also. There are of course rules and regulations that must be followed. Check with your state for the correct rules and necessary licensing. Other than that there are some basic safety rules that should be followed.
Ice Fishing Safety
The recommended thickness of solid ice for a small group of ice fisherman is a minimum of 4 inches. More is safer. Less is questionable.
Ice that looks blue or black is stronger than ice that is milky white. Blue ice is actually newer, freshly formed ice. White ice comes from partially thawing or broken ice that refreezes.
- Ice around the perimeter is weaker. This is caused by shifting and expansion, as well as reflected sunlight. Ice around docks and logs that stick out of the water is also weaker since the wood can absorb heat from the sun.
- Changing air temperature and standing water caused by melting can weaken the ice and make it crack. Areas of ice where cracks meet or intersect should be avoided. If there is only a single, unbroken pressure crack, the ice should be safe to cross.
- Areas where springs feed into other bodies of water may also have weak or thin ice and pockets of open water.
Just like when swimming, don’t go ice fishing alone. Take a buddy for safety as well as company. It’s more fun to tell stories about the big one that got away if there is a witness to the event!
Wear a PFD. This means life jacket if you aren’t familiar with the term. While this practice is relatively new in the U.S., many ice fishermen in Canada wear an actual “flotation” or “antihypothermia” suit. These are similar to coveralls that are lined with Airsoft PVC closed cell foam. This provides buoyancy and insulation. They are a bit expensive, but if you enjoy ice fishing (and safety) they are well worth the cost.
- Ice cleats or creepers attach to boots to give traction on smooth, slippery ice. This helps prevent falls and injuries.
- Ice picks and ropes are both beneficial if you, or someone else falls through the ice.
- Wear proper outdoor clothing. Dress in layers and don’t forget a hat and extra gloves.
Testing Ice Thickness
Earlier I mentioned that the ice should be at least 4 inches thick for safe ice fishing. So how do you know how thick it is? There are 2 basic tools that will help determine the thickness of the ice, and to cut the hole that will allow you to actually fish. (That’s why it’s called ice fishing-you have to cut a hole in the ice!)
- Chisels-A standard chisel has a long handled metal blade that is flattened on one side and angled on the other so that a thin sharp point is formed. They are great for testing thickness, but it takes forever to chop a hole that is big enough for ice fishing and the noise may scare away your dinner.
- Deluxe chisels have weighted handles that make chopping easier and their specialized cutting surfaces increase cutting depth with each chop.
- Hand Augers-A well sharpened hand auger is the choice of many ice fishermen. It is reasonably priced and lightweight. If the ice is really thick however, it can give you quite a workout.
- Power Augers are another option. They come in Electric (actually battery-operated) and Gas. Each variety has pros and cons. Electric augers don’t produce fumes, but you have to lug along a 12-volt battery. Gas augers are quick and efficient but relatively bulky and difficult to transport over the ice.
Safety is key in any outdoor activity. I hope all you ice fishing adventures are injury free.
by Sandra M. Webster