Stay on top of the ice this ice fishing season

If you like fishing and don’t mind the cold, ice fishing can be a great way to while away the days until the open water fishing season starts again. But if you don’t take precautions, a fun day on the ice can turn into tragedy.

I wintered in North Dakota a few years ago, and I learned a lot about ice fishing while I was there. Those folks take ice fishing very seriously. They even have camping trailers that are built specifically for ice fishing. The wheels and hitch articulate up, allowing the floor of the trailer to sit flush on the ice. Inside, the floors have segments that can be removed, and you just drill your fishing hole right there inside your camper.

But that requires that you pull that trailer out onto the ice with your pickup or SUV. I suppose in a state like North Dakota, where you often need an auger extension to get your hole all the way through the ice, that’s not a big deal. But you’re not going to catch me driving my truck out onto the ice anywhere in Wyoming.

Stick to walking out onto the ice to keep from having to explain a very expensive mistake to your car insurance company. Four inches of clear ice is usually safe to walk on, but of course, the thicker, the better. And keep in mind that clear ice is more stable than milky ice. If it looks milky, the bonds between the water molecules aren’t as strong. As you walk out onto the ice, drill test holes every so often. Check to make sure the ice is thick enough, and look for cracks or bands of white running through the ice.

If for some reason you do fall through the ice and find yourself in near-freezing water, you won’t last long, so never go ice fishing alone. Always go with a buddy who can help you if the ice suddenly disappears.

Pack extra clothes and hot liquids for every ice fishing excursion. You might keep a sleeping bag handy, too, along with a couple methods for starting a fire. If a member of your party falls through the ice, strip them of wet clothes, stuff the victim in a sleeping bag, then take your own clothes off and crawl in with them. That’s why you want to go ice fishing with good friends.

Stay on top of the ice. But be prepared to do what you need to if someone falls through.