Ice fishing safety tips
by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
January 22, 2019
Ice fishing is a great winter activity that the entire family can enjoy. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reminds anglers that safety should be the number one concern during a day out on the ice.
Anglers should be familiar with the water body they plan to fish. The safest ice anglers are those who pay as much attention to the changing conditions of the ice as they do to the fishing conditions.
When on the ice, remember:
- If you have even the slightest doubt about the safety of the ice—stay off it. No fish is ever worth a fall into frigid water.
- Blue ice is usually hard. Watch out for opaque, gray, dark or porous spots in the ice that could be weak, soft areas. Ice also tends to thin more quickly at the shorelines.
- Watch for pressure ridges. These are areas of open water or thin ice where the ice has cracked and heaved due to expansion from freezing.
- Test the ice ahead of you with an ice spud bar or an auger.
- Don’t leave children unsupervised on the ice.
- Lakes and ponds do not freeze at the same thickness all over.
- Moving water—rivers, streams and springs—weaken ice by wearing it away from underneath.
- Avoid ice on rivers and streams, or where a river or stream enters a lake, pond or reservoir.
- The least safe ice usually occurs early and late in the season, when the weather is warmer.
The following are MINIMUMS needed with ice thickness:
4 inches: 1 person with gear5 inches: small group spread out
6 inches: snowmobile or ATV
9 inches: small automobile*
12 inches: pickup truck or SUV*
*not recommended, but if you must, proceed at your own risk!
Some other common ice-safety reminders to keep in mind include:
- Dress warm and waterproof to help prevent frostbite and hypothermia.
- Consider changes in the weather (and ice conditions) during the prior 24 hours.
- It's OK to wear a life jacket (PFD) or carry a throwable floatation device while out on the ice — safe ice-anglers do it all the time.
Before you head from home, tell someone where you plan to fish and when you plan to return.
Carry a pair of ice picks (long spikes on a heavy string around your neck). If you break through the ice, you can use the spikes to grip the ice and pull yourself out of the water.