The period between the time open water season closes and ice fishing starts that anglers are asking the same question. Is the ice safe? Ice safety is something that should be on everyones mind. But the period between seasons tends to make everyone a little antsy. Some people start to take risks and make terrible decisions, occasionally ending in tragedy. We strongly believe ice safety has two sides to it. The safety gear we carry and use and a safe mindset. Both are things that don’t take a whole lot of time to acquire. But paired those with preparation and they can save you from injury, or even more important save your life.
A safe mindset is simple, just thinking about safety first. Dave Chong always lives by the motto “when in doubt don’t go out”. Something that everyone should live by! You are the only one who should be making the call to go on the ice if you are not comfortable with the ice conditions, do not go! But getting comfortable or knowing what bad ice is takes some time and research. Here is what you should know about ice to help you make safe decisions when you are ice fishing.
Early ice vs late ice safety
Shore line ice forms faster than main lake ice does, so check as you walk out. Don’t assume that because you have three inches of safe ice at shore, you will have safe ice everywhere. Adversely, the shorelines will degrade and break up much faster than the main lake at the end of the season. The shoreline warms quicker, especially if there are rocks, mud-lines, weeds, or current present. This is where it will break up and get you into trouble. Later in the year shorelines can break up as the day goes on. Warm sunny days don’t start warm and sunny, it was cold thru the night! Before you head out check the weather. Make sure you are prepared to deal with sketchy ice on the way back if it’s going to get warm.
Ice safety on your body of water
Current, underwater structure, rivers, streams, and wind can affect ice thickness and consistency. Weedy and muddy bottoms hold more heat slowing the formation and speeding up the degradation of ice. This is where knowing your body of water pays dividends towards safety. You can learn a lot about the lake by looking at maps. Learn where they are and avoiding areas where rivers or creeks come into the body of water.
Snow insulates ice
There is something magical about a snowfall. It refreshes everything, makes all the mucky snow disappear, covering it in a fresh clean coat. It also slows down the buildup of ice! Snow acts like an insulator, preventing the cold from building up the ice underneath it. Especially at first ice, do not walk across snowy patches without checking the ice underneath it. 2021 has been a warmer than typical season and safe ice has been delayed. More than ever we are seeing reports and posts about sketchy ice under snow! Some places have a difference of three inches of ice from clean patches to covered patches.
White ice happens when air is introduced to the ice as it is forming. This usually forms when snow falls onto ice, weighing it down and water comes up and turns that snow solid. This ice is not nearly as strong as black/clear ice. Avoid white ice unless there is a solid base of black ice underneath it.
This is the ice you want to see, black clear ice. It is the strongest and you can safely walk on 3 or more inches of it. Remember that black ice is not always a consistent thickness. Ice formation starts at the shoreline and builds out, so check as you go.
This is the last stage of ice, the end of the season ice. The ice starts to get thousands of tiny holes in it…like a honey comb. When you kick it with your cleats or hit it with a spud it shatters into shards! This, you want to stay off of! It can act like quick sand or just open up out of no where, regardless of thickness.
Pie plate ice
This is what happens when ice starts to form and then breaks up. Usually due to high winds or warm temperatures followed by it freezing up again. You get large blocks of white ice surrounded by black ice. When the black ice is thick enough to encapsulates the all of the white ice, it is typically safe. The problem is, you do not know how much black ice you have around it until you drill thru it. Proceed with caution on pie plate ice.
This happens most typically when you are fishing lakes that do not freeze entirely. The thin ice breaks up and the sheets of ice build up higher and higher, at times several feet high. This is a very dangerous situation as the ice is constantly moving because the main lake is not frozen. Pockets and caverns can form under the ice. You can have 4 or 5 sheets of ice under you for a few steps. Then one sheet of thin ice the next. Stay off this ice!
Ice Safety Equipment
As important as a safe mindset is, having the safety gear is an added sense of security. Some basic equipment you should have are;
- ice picks
- a throw rope
- ice cleats
- a spud bar/ice chisel
- communication devices
- some form of maps.
Floater suits are something that we deem essential. Because of the price point it is understandable that not all anglers use them.
You really should take ice safety and safety gear seriously. No fish is worth your life! It will cut your day short if you go thru, so why take that chance. Remember, no ice is safe ice! Things can change in an instant so keep a safety first mindset and keep catching fish!