By 03/01/2015 Read More →

Ice Safety: Staying Dry to Stay Alive

With spring just around the corner, it seems strange to sit and write about ice safety.  Wouldn’t this be a better topic for December? Well, yeah, but in a lot of cases last ice can be more dangerous than first ice.  Indiana is right on the southern edge of ice fishing country.  Most years, the the portion of the state north can expect to ice fish for at least a month or two.  South of Indianapolis, it’s a bit less likely, but the past 2 years have found southern Indiana anglers able to drill holes closer to home.  This lack of reliable opportunity will cause Hoosier ice anglers push the season just as far as we can.  And that is what makes last ice so dangerous.

The first step in staying safe on the ice is understanding just how much ice is required to support you.  While some will tell you they will venture out on much less, but 4 inches of CLEAR ice is really about as thin as I like to venture out on.  I don’t want to worry about each pop and moan when I’m trying to enjoy fishing.

Ice thickness graphic

Later in the season, or during warm ups, these safe thicknesses can be tossed out the window.  The conditions of the ice become more important than its thickness.  As ice melts, and water starts to run thru it, it starts to honeycomb.  This honeycombed ice should be avoided, and the only way to identify it is to drill a hole and examine it.  Honeycombed ice will drill out in chunks, rather than the shaved ice you get from good ice.  It will also appear white and full of bubbles.  A little bit of white ice over a thick layer of dark, clear ice is safe enough, but a growing layer of soft, white ice signals the end of ice fishing season. Aside from an awareness of ice conditions, there are some important pieces of equipment that will make your time on the ice safer.

safety equipment

The one item everyone should carry onto the ice is a spud.  A spud is properly a heavy iron chisel that proceeded augers as a means of cutting holes in the ice.  For our purposes, a spud can be any heavy metal object used to test the soundness of the ice as you walk along.  Notice we are checking soundness, and not thickness.  Lengths of pipe, iron bars, and ice chisels are all appropriate tools.  I carry a 5′ piece of 3/4″ round bar, sharpened at one end.  A spud is pounded into the ice as you walk along.  With experience, you can judge the ice AHEAD of you before you step onto it.  I’ve learned that if the ice can withstand 4 vigorous blows from my spud, it’s safe to walk on.  The remainder of the equipment I keep along, I hope to never use.  It’s intended for use should I ever go in.

Should you go in, you will be in…water.  In the summer, you wouldn’t be on the water without a lifejacket would you?  Winter should be no different.  I wear mine under my coat until I’ve gotten to the area I intend to fish.  Then it goes into my sled until I’m ready to move across the lake again.  Besides Personal Floatation, it also serves as a throwable rescue device should someone else go in.

Rescue is also why I carry a length of rope.  Should someone else go thru the ice, the last thing you want to do is run up to the edge of the hole to help.  The ice is thin there, remember?  The rope lets you pull them out from a safe distance.

A set of picks, or ice spikes, will help me pull myself out should I go in.  Picks can be purchased or easily made by setting a spike into a section of broomstick.  Fasten a pair to a length of paracord, and they hang around your neck within easy reach.  Also around my neck is a coach’s whistle.  Yelling is exhausting and voices don’t carry far.  The ear piercing trill of the whistle will attract attention while conserving your energy.

Ice fishermen aren’t crazy. Really.  But the pursuit of our sport can put us into difficult situations.  Understanding the nature of the ice we walk on, and having a few important safety items on hand can spell the difference between life and death.  Make room in your kit for these few items, because like they say: Better to have them and not need them than to need them and wish you had them.

Tight lines and dry boots!


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Paul Winks

About the Author:

I'm Paul Winks, and I'm proud to join the group at Military Hunting and Fishing. I'm a life long Hoosier, and Purdue Boilermaker fan. I grew up in a hunting and fishing family. My grandmother introduced me to panfish and morel mushrooms at a young age. My uncles took me on my first squirrel and rabbit hunts, and my Dad instilled a love of deer hunting and an appeitite for ginseng. Other intrerests, like waterfowl and turkeys, I picked up on my own. These days, waterfowl and river fishing consume most of my outdoor time, but I do still dabble in small game and deer every year. My two sons are my outdoor companions these days. I've spent a lot of time and effort to teach them the same respect and love for the outdoors that I developed years ago. I also have an entire tribe of grandsons, from first grade down to 2. My hands are gonna be full for years to come. I'm a welder by trade. That ability and desire to build has made me a avid DIY'er. Duck decoys, tree stands, and even duck boats...if I use it, I'm gonna try to build it. Chances are, if you are here, we have a lot of common interests. I look forward to sharing mine with you!
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