Ice Fishing Safety Tips for Northward Travelers

Ice Fishing Safety Tips for Northward Travelers

December 15, 2023

It’s that time of year when the subject of ice safety is on everyone’s lips.  Though we never want to be a downer at the Musky Shop, we do want to raise awareness for those planning to ice fish this season and promote safety for those traveling to the Northwoods to ice fish for the first time. 

Ice fishing safety is our number one concern for novice ice anglers, but even those who have been fishing through the ice their whole lives can skirt some of the most basic rules when in a hurry, placing themselves or their partners at risk.  So, let’s go over some solid information for ice fishing that will keep you safe and sound over the winter season.

For starters, it’s best to know your area and have a heads up on ice thickness before you even attempt passage on any lake in the Northwoods.  Many folks choose to travel with a cordless drill to measure depth and for those who find this cumbersome, it’s a good idea to walk ice with a spud bar or ice chisel.  This will allow you to make test jabs at the ice for assurance.  Remember clear ice is more solid than bubbly snow-covered ice.  Also, it's always best to make sure your early ice travel takes place in daylight so you are fully aware of any movement below.

After the ice has reached the 4” mark is safe for travel and ice fishing, but many folks really push for 6” before they are ice fishing regularly.  Whether you fish in a pop-up, shanty, or nothing at all, it’s always best to know the weight of your gear prior to travel to make sure an area of ice can support your gear.  Ice is a tricky lady and small currents, inlets, and outlets can lead to less ice, so you must be diligent with your preparations. 

Once we have the proper thickness for travel and fishing. It’s all about preparing for personal safety.  Most anglers prefer to fish in an ice suit (designed specifically for falling through the ice), but for those who may not fish on the ice regularly, a float suit might not be a valuable investment.  Instead of an ice suit, you may bundle up and wear layers.  For safety, remember that layers trap air, so if ever you fall into the water, leave your layers on to help you stay above water.  Carry on your person, handheld ice picks, mylar emergency blanket, and waterproof case for your cell phone.

If there is a possibility of an ice collapse, it makes sense to carry things on your person that will help you get out of the water like ice picks.  It also makes sense that before you travel, it is a good idea to warn a person back at the cabin or home of your whereabouts to find you in a hurry if you are unable to pull yourself up or get warm.  You can always drop a pin and share it through your mobile phone maps or airdrop your location to people nearby in a pinch if you have an iPhone.  These are helpful digital signatures that can get you help in an instant if you are traveling alone.

Just remember, ice fishing has an added risk that anglers are sometimes slightly underprepared for.  It can be a fun and memorable outing for those who participate, but only if you don’t skip the basics and make sure you are following some common-sense safety protocols.  For more information visit the Wisconsin DNR for tips and strategies.