Before venturing ice fishing, how safe’s the ice?

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The question smart fishermen ask about lake ice being safe or not has no definitive answer. More than a simple statement of the thickness of ice, safe ice is the sum of several factors such as clarity, snow cover, underwater currents, and near shore run-off points.

Clear ice is more likely to be structurally stronger than cloudy or pocketed ice. Snow cover serves as an insulator, causing ice thickness to increase at a slower pace than ice directly exposed to frigid temperatures. Underwater currents can and do eat away at the bottom of ice cover, shaving off the thickness and rendering the ice less-than-safe compared to nearby ice where currents aren’t a factor. Even warm water entering the lake from on-shore ditches and creeks can weaken the ice cover.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife created a list of suggestions for prospective ice fishermen.

  • Contact a local guide or bait shop to ask about ice conditions. One can also wait at a landing area to ask fishermen coming off the ice.
  • Check ice thickness before traveling onto the ice. A very reliable method is to auger holes every so often to visually check ice conditions. Place a twig or small branch near the drilled holes so that a safe route back can be followed.
  • Dress properly for the conditions. The DOW also suggests that anglers wear a life vest as an outer shell. It’s also smart to bring a carpet sample or a section of newspaper to stand on — either provides a bit of insulation. Don’t forget to remove the material when you leave.
  • Fish with a partner or in sight and hearing range of other anglers. Let others know where you will be and when you plan to be back.
  • Carry a cell phone and waterproof it with a sealable, plastic bag.
  • Be sure to carry your fishing license and purchase a new one by March 1.

No guarantees

We’ve all been taught that every firearm should be treated as if it is loaded. Now understand that no ice is guaranteed to be safe and frozen lakes should be treated as if the ice cover is questionable at best.

Test it, drill it, listen to it, and beware of it. Keep in mind, too, good ice can become bad ice in a matter of hours if something changes. If you think it isn’t safe, go home, go bowling, go to a movie, but don’t take a chance.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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