Fishing Safely on the Ice: Do’s and Don'ts

Fishing Safely on the Ice: Do’s and Don'ts

Venturing out onto the hard water to try your luck fishing is exhilarating, sometimes tedious, and oftentimes hazardous depending on where and when you’re fishing. So before you load your bucket and sled, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with a few factors that can affect your safety and well being out on the ice.


It all starts with 4 inches of clear ice. Can you go out on thinner ice? Sure, but anything less than 4” is a gamble not worth risking a few sunnies over. Give it more time, (especially if you’re heavier than average). Maybe go badger the local bait store for intel, or better yet bore them into giving you some tips just to get rid of you. Just spitballing here. 

Let the ice set to 6 inches before firing up your snowmobile or ATV, and 8” to 12” for your pickup. Take the time to chop a hole in the ice to measure it for yourself. Traffic patterns out onto the ice will often dictate the safest routes. If you’re in a group, spread out and don’t ride single file on open ice.

Ready? Great. Now look around. Is there moving or open water anywhere nearby? Are there snowdrifts over parts of the ice? How about cracks? These are ALL good places to AVOID. 

Also listen. Ice is often settling, and too many loud cracks are a red flag that it may be too unstable in places. Use extra caution early or late in the season. That is when ice becomes most unpredictable. She may be trying to tell you something.

Be mindful that the ice near shore is often thickest, which may give a false sense of security as you move out further. Just remember not all ice is created equal, and differing inlets and inflowing springs can create unexpected thin spots


  • Don’t fish alone. Convince your buddy to come along, even if you need to oversell how hot the bite is. For those of you who enjoy fishing alone - at least let someone know where you are fishing and bring your cell.
  • Ask around. Find out from the locals any treacherous spots that may not be apparent if you are fishing a new body of water.
  • Use a Floatation Suit. You need a good set of outerwear for ice fishing regardless, so make sure it FLOATS. Like this Boreas Floating Ice Suit. Anything less may lead to tragic results. This is the most important investment in peace of mind for you and your loved ones. 
  • Bring ice picks. These are accessories that can potentially save your life. Just make sure you have easy access to them if needed. The addition of a floating suit will offer you the added benefit of buoyancy while securing your ice picks and make pulling your weight that much easier.
  • Roll, baby. Once you are safely back on the ice, resist the temptation to stand up. Stay flat and roll away from the open ice until you feel you can safely regain your feet.
  • Dress in layers. Be ready for weather changes and remember to ventilate while walking longer distances. Perspiration is not your friend out here.
  • Bring cleats. Cleats are easily strapped onto boots if you are heading onto clear or ‘wild ice’. Slipping is a continual hazard on clear ice, and most boots will not handle it well. You will feel far more confident and certainly safer with cleats on.


Since you asked, when you hit the water, one of two things will happen:

  1. Your body goes into cold water shock and you start hyperventilating. You must keep your head above water until the shock wears off—about 60 seconds.

    Once the shock wears off, you have 10 minutes to pull yourself out of the water. Any longer, and your hands, arms and legs will begin to fail.

    If you’re still in the water after 10 minutes, only someone else can save you. You have a 60 minute window for someone to find you before hypothermia kills you.

  2. You float, because you’re wearing a floating ice fishing suit. The additional floatation easily assists you in crawling back onto the ice to safety. We prefer THIS option.


Just remember that common sense goes a long way out here, and doing a gut check is a useful way to assess whether you’re risking life and limb over this outdoor recreation. If you’re enjoying the creature comforts of a heated ice shanty, for instance, remember that proper ventilation can easily save your life as well. 

So get out and enjoy all the adventure that ice fishing offers. Just remember to follow the ice guidelines and ground rules to ensure you have fun, make memories and enjoy your time safely on the ice.    -WR

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