For many centuries ice fishing has been a fun, enjoyable, and productive activity during the long, cold months of winter. Unlike the summer months where you must fight the mosquitoes along with the many tourists who will camp near your fishing spot, you can set up shop where the ice is thick and not be concerned about bug bites. Plus, it is relatively inexpensive and gets you outdoors so you can beat the doldrums of the cold, winter months.
However, despite all the advantages, you must practice the proper ice fishing safety to keep warm and protected while enjoying your time outdoors. Ice fishing does have its dangers that you must be aware of if you are going to enjoy your time outdoors. This means engaging in the proper preparation and being aware of your surroundings. Here are a few ice fishing tips that will help keep you safe and sound when you are on your trip. These tips were taught to me by an old Norwegian gentleman in Wisconsin and are considered basics for the newbie. You can upgrade as much as your motivation and wallet will allow.
How to dress for Ice Fishing
Just like your mother dressed you before going outside, you’ll need plenty of protection when ice fishing. You need to think in terms of layers for protection, but also in terms of wearing clothing that is breathable so that you do not wind up freezing because of your own sweat.
Layers: It’s better to wear several thin layers than rely on a big coat. The base layer should be wool, fleece or a good synthetic which is warm and breathable which allows the skin underneath to dry quickly.
Coat & Pants: A nice winter coat and waterproof snow pants make all the difference. Be sure to open your coat when walking distances so that you do not build up a layer of sweat that freezes after you sit down.
Boots, Hat, & Socks: Waterproof boots or galoshes (I just love saying this word!) are a fine start. Be sure to wear two layers of socks with the thin layer being next to your feet. A good stocking cap that covers your ears is also essential. Plus, hand and toe warmer packets will keep them warm when you are fishing.
You’ll need the right gear for your ice fishing adventure in addition to your warm clothing. Here are the basic items that you will need.
- Augerice Auger: Easy to cut holes in the ice
- Tackle & Hook: The basic hook, sinker, and so forth, I’m a big fan of Flirty Girty Jigs
- Ice Fishing Rods: Short, inexpensive, and highly effective
- Fishing Line: Four to Eight pound lines will do.
- Tip-Ups: Makes it easy to fish. When set up right, you stand the best chance of catching a fish
- Spring or Flag: Set up under the “T” on the shaft and you’ll know when you get a bite.
- Sled: Carry all your stuff on a sled makes it easy.
You’ll need live bait when using a tip-up. Minnows or golden shiners are the best. If you are jigging, use a weighted spoon with a minnow, nightcrawler, or waxworm.
One of the best ice fishing tips is using jigs to make the experience easier for you. You’ll need an ice fishing bucket complete with lid and handle so you can carry your catch home and a scoop to clean away the slush from the hole you’ve created. A minnow bucket is a must if you are using them as bait.
You will need to be observant if you want to avoid falling through the ice. Although relatively rare, thin ice does claim victims every year, some of whom were experienced in ice fishing, but failed to heed the warning signs.
Bring a Friend: A friend provides you with companionship and assistance in case the worst should occur. You will also want to let people know where you are at and how long your ice fishing trip will last so that if you do not return help will be on the way.
Ice Thickness: The ice needs to be about four inches thick to support the weight of a person and eight inches for ATVs or snowmobiles. If the ice is white or not clear, then you will need double the thickness because it didn’t freeze uniformly. This is where your auger or spud bar will come in handy. Also, you’ll want to avoid areas that water normally flows freely such as springs and pressure cracks as the ice is often thinner in these areas.
Keep Alert: Those who get into trouble either walk on ice where the thickness has not been checked or miss signs that danger might be present. Your ice fishing safety relies on being alert when you travel or hear, feel, or see cracking that might lead to stepping on compromised ice. So, keep alert to changes and make the necessary adjustments when they occur.
Remember that even the most prepared can still be caught by the unexpected. You may have planned for your trip to the Nth degree, but your vehicle breaking down was not something under consideration. So, be sure to carry an emergency phone, first aid kit, and extra clothing in case you get wet. Don’t let the unexpected catch you off-guard.
Preparations for your trip will begin weeks, if not months in advance. The good news is that you do not have to spend much time getting ready, but the time you do spend should be productive.
Clean: All your fishing equipment should be properly cleaned and ready to go. The good news is that you can do this well in advance and store it so it stays clean. A good ice fishing safety tip is cleaning up all your gear after your last trip of the season so it will be ready to go when winter comes again.
Maintenance: Any equipment that you use for your ice fishing such as a mechanical auger should be maintenance well before you leave. This means making sure it works well in advance of your trip and replacing any worn parts. Check out the blades as well to see that they are still ready to work.
By following these ice fishing safety tips, you can be better prepared before heading out onto the ice.