For more than 30 years, Dave Genz has been helping modern ice anglers discover the importance of mobility. Move more and you catch more fish.
At the same time, he stresses that you cannot ignore the equally important topic of ice safety while you’re out there.
Ice conditions vary from spot to spot on the same lake, and tremendously from region to region. In certain locales, ice thick enough to support foot traffic will only remain for several days or weeks at a time. If you feel at all uncertain about ice conditions, wear a life jacket while you’re ice fishing. It never gets discussed in the media, but what better way to ensure your safety? We’ve never heard of anyone falling through the ice and drowning while wearing a life jacket. “If you have a life jacket on,” says Genz, “there’s no way you’re going to fall through the ice and end up on the bottom. Your head will be up, and you can kick your legs, pull, slide and roll back the way you came from.”
After all these years and all those days of first- and last-ice fishing, Genz has yet to fall through, other than having his feet punch through along shore. One of the reasons: he is religious about walking with a chisel, punching the ice ahead of himself as he ventures out. If the chisel pops through with one smart poke, he does the smart thing and retreats.
When is the Ice Safe?
Here are some recognized guidelines for knowing when ice is safe enough to support various modes of mobility, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: (Please note that these guidelines apply for clear, solid ice. If ice begins to form, then a heavy blanket of snow falls on it, that can hamper overall strength of the ice.)
• Wait to walk out until there is at least 4 inches of clear, solid ice. True, thinner ice will support one angler, but ice thickness can vary just a few yards away, from the influence of flocks of waterfowl, water chemistry and local climate.
• Snowmobiles and ATVs need at least 5-6 inches of clear, solid ice.
• Automobiles and light trucks need 8 inches to a foot of good ice. But there’s more to safely driving a vehicle on ice!Keep a distance between vehicles, and don’t follow each other single file (except when you have to, such as when roads are plowed out to fishing areas). When ice is only marginally safe for vehicle traffic, your car or truck makes a wake under the ice. When the wakes of more than one vehicle collide, cars following in close proximity can easily break through ice that safely held the leading cars! Also, no matter how thick the ice, it’s a good idea to drive slowly. A fast-moving vehicle can make a big bulge ahead of itself, and the ice can––it rarely happens, but it can––break apart in front of the fast-moving vehicle.
Obviously, avoid driving into known bad-ice areas, such as springs, moving water, and around aerators. Ask about each lake before you drive on. Also– and this can pertain to walking as well– avoid expansion cracks, or ‘pressure ridges’ as they are sometimes