Minnesota DNR offers ice fishing safety tips for anglers on frozen lakes

By on February 23, 2015
A man ice fishing, circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of Bain News Service / Library of Congress)

If you’re an angler in one of the northern states, there’s a decent chance that you spend the winter months with a layer of ice in between you and your favorite fish species. Of course, if the ice is substantial enough, this otherwise hindering situation can afford a great alternative angling method.

Modern ice fishing tends to value mobility above the drill-and-wait tactics of yesteryear. For many anglers, this translates to a more exciting experience, but it can also increase ice fishing’s inherent risks. The highly variable air temperature around this time of year may also pose a hazard to anglers on the ice, according to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources press release.

As temperatures fluctuate from below zero to 40 degrees, the thickness of lake ice may vary as well, sometimes leading to open water that can refreeze in thin patches. Although 4 inches is a generally accepted “safe” depth for ice fishing and other on-foot activities, the Minnesota DNR warns that ice age, temperature and snow coverage should be considered in addition to thickness before venturing onto the ice.

While some veteran ice anglers will risk fishing on ice as thin as 2.5 inches, this sort of move is not recommended. In January, two teenage boys died after falling through three inches of ice in an Indiana rock quarry.

Ice fishermen sit out on Irondequoit Bay in Webster, NY waiting for a bite. (Credit: Bill Blevins, via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Ice fishermen sit out on Irondequoit Bay in Webster, NY waiting for a bite. (Credit: Bill Blevins, via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

If you’re taking a vehicle onto the ice, the necessary depth increases: at least 5 inches for snowmobiles and ATVs, and 8-12 inches for cars and light trucks. Vehicles should be moved frequently to avoid weakening the ice. However, even at prime thickness, it’s best to keep vehicles on solid ground. A father and son were killed in another January ice fishing incident, when their Jeep fell through 10 inches of ice after a narrow crack formed across two and a half miles of Lake Winnebago.

Once you’re on the ice, the Minnesota DNR suggests using an ice chisel, auger or drill — along with a standard tape measure — to verify the thickness of the desired fishing spot. But before you even leave the house, call up your local bait shop or marina. They’ll likely have up-to-date information about ice thickness, as well as angling pressure at the lake. More anglers in closer proximity not only stress the ice with weight, but also draws fish together in tighter formations. Their movement and respiration can warm the water, weakening the ice from below.

Ice fishing always comes with some risk attached, but if you head out with a plan and the proper knowledge — not to mention a cell phone, in case of emergencies — you and your fishing buddies will run a greater risk of having a good time on the ice.

Top image: A man ice fishing, circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of Bain News Service / Library of Congress)

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