Ice fishing has its own set of safety rules that if not followed, can cause a day of fishing to end in tragedy.
The strength of ice is determined by its look and texture. Clear ice is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky and is very porous and weak.
Ice covered by snow should always be presumed unsafe, because snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow can be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can melt existing ice, or push the ice surface down, causing water from beneath to well up over the top, creating a troublesome layer of slush. If there is slush on the ice, stay off.
On big lakes, ice in some spots may be thick enough to safely hold a car while other areas may be little more than an inch thick. Be especially careful around pressure cracks.
The best way to ensure your safety is to always assume that no ice is safe.
- Before venturing out onto the ice, check with local sources for the most up-to-date information on ice conditions.
- Always fish with a buddy whenever possible and always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
- Do not go out on any ice unless you test the thickness and quality with a spud first.
- Avoid areas where there are inlets or outlets due to moving water under the ice.
- Avoid areas where there are natural springs.
- Avoid the ice around structures, docks and pilings.
- Pay attention to wind direction especially when fishing on large bodies of waters. If the wind direction is just right, it can blow the ice out and away from shore leaving anglers stranded.
- Wear a personal floatation device. Also, carry a couple of large nails and a length of nylon rope. If you should go through the ice, the nails could help provide a grip on the slippery surface and aid in getting you out.
- If you do break through the ice, try not to panic. Remember to turn toward the direction you came from — toward the ice that supported you. Use the nails or your hands to gain a hold on the unbroken surface as an aid in getting out.
- Once you are out of the water and are lying on the ice, don’t stand. Roll away from the point where you broke through until you are on solid ice.
- If you see someone fall through the ice, do not run toward the person. Carefully extend a rope, ladder, pole or line to the victim.
- Always get the victim to a hospital emergency room as soon as possible for treatment.
Targeting Northern Pike at First Ice
Many anglers will agree that the first ice of the winter season often produces some of the best northern pike fishing you can find.
There could be a couple of reasons why this is so, perhaps it’s because there are plenty of baitfish for them to target thanks to a decrease in weed cover or perhaps it’s because first ice is often clear and allows the sight-feeding fish to target their prey more easily because of the penetration of sunlight. Regardless, the coming weeks (weather permitting) are a great time to target this species.
You’ll want to use a tip-up for this type of fishing, with a minnow or small panfish on the end of your line. Keep in mind you can catch small panfish in the lake you’re fishing and legally use them as bait in the same water body.
Target similar areas that you may have fished for northern pike when there was still open water and you might see some success!