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If ice fishing is your preferred way of rambling, prepare with some basics to ramble responsibly out on the ice. Like any wilderness activity, letting a friend or family member know your plans is good practice. Let them know your location and a rough timeline of your outing.
If you’re headed out on the ice for the first time, know your ice.
Not all ice is equal!
A big frozen lake may look uniform, but it is anything but underneath. Ice thickness can vary in a matter of a few feet. Where one spot may be a foot thick, it could be mere inches thick close by.
New ice tends to be stronger than older ice. Tracking the weather and freezing temperatures can help estimate the quality of ice. A foot of semi-thawed ice is less stable than a few inches of clear, newly frozen ice.
White or Clear?
With white ice, think twice. Clear ice, you’re in the clear (mostly). You’re clear to continue following additional precautionary measures, at least. White ice, or snow ice, is only about half as strong as clear ice.
One solid way to test the ice is to ask a local guide or bait shop. They will often have intel on the safest areas. You can also perform a DIY test with an ice chisel, ice auger, or a 1/4-inch drill with a long bit will do.
Ice Thickness Guidelines
Carry these in your mind, but know that no ice is 100% safe. These apply to new, clear ice only.
2″ or less – Stay off
4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
8″-12″ – Car or small pickup
12″ – 15″ Medium sized truck
Driving on ice is risky. If you feel like you must drive, make an emergency action plan with everyone in the vehicle. Keep the windows down and be prepared to leave in a hurry if necessary.
Pack the right Gear
Wear a lifevest or snowmobile flotation suit. A flotation suit can keep you warm while trying to escape freezing water. If you do find yourself trying to escape freezing water, a pair of ice picks is going to continue to save your life. Ice picks will allow a grip on the ice so you can pull yourself out of the water.
Leave Before Dark
Stopping on ice is hard enough, don’t add overdriving your headlights to the list. If you spot that hole in the ice too late, you may be unable to stop in time to avoid it, especially in a snowmobile.