5 Tips For Staying Safe While Ice Fishing

On many lakes in Southern Ontario, it appears we have an early start to the ice fishing season. This is pretty amazing considering it’s not even Christmas yet! Valens Lake Conservation Area announced yesterday that it is open for ice fishing, I have heard of people out on Guelph Lake, and some areas of Lake Simcoe are being fished for perch. Mother Nature decided to give us ice anglers an early Christmas gift.

While we are all eager to hit the ice and drill some holes, it is important to remember that ice is never completely safe, and you should take safety precautions on every outing. There is a very good chance that you will go through the ice at some point, and every season I read stories about those who didn’t survive the frigid water. First ice is especially notorious for being unpredictable, so here are some tips that I follow each season to help me return safely.

1. Use Ice Picks

ice picks

Ice Picks

The first season or two that I spent on the ice, I didn’t own a pair of ice picks. After watching some videos of ice rescue demonstrations, and reading about anglers who went through the ice, I decided I needed a pair. Now I never go ice fishing without my ice picks around my neck – I even forget that they are there. My hands won’t be able to grip the ice if I go in, but these will.

2. Check The Ice As You Go

Don’t assume that seeing other anglers on the ice means that the ice is safe. Always use a spud or your auger to check ice thickness and quality along the way. The general rule of thumb is that a person needs 4-inches of good quality ice to be safe, but I find everyone has a different comfort level.

3. Fish With A Buddy

Not only is it more fun to have a buddy to talk to when the fish aren’t biting, but if you go in, they are your best chance of getting out of that water safely. They can call for help, attempt to rescue you, and help talk you through the incident. Plus, I find it’s helpful to have two people looking at the ice and agreeing that it’s safe.

4. Wear A Flotation Device

Whether it’s a floater suit, PFD, or life jacket, a flotation device will give you those precious moments that can make the difference between a positive outcome, and a not-so-positive outcome. Can you imagine falling into frigid water and trying to keep yourself afloat while your body starts going into shock? I have heard many ice anglers say that they don’t like wearing floater suits because they can be uncomfortable. Personally, I’m not a fan of looking like an orange penguin, but if I go through the ice, I definitely want to be in my floater suit.

5. Pay Attention To The Weather

Wind, rain, blizzards, and warm temperatures can all give you headaches on the ice and put you in harms way. Check the weather forecast before you head out. Wind can cause waves that will break up the ice and can leave you in the precarious position of floating around on your own personal iceberg. Warm temperatures can degrade ice conditions faster than you may think, and rain will make it even worse. It surprised me to see just how fast my small ice hole could become a gaping hole. Even when the temperatures are cold, a blizzard could prevent you from seeing hazards and may cause you to lose your sense of direction.

The start of the ice fishing season is one of my greatest joys each year, and I hope you feel the same way. Don’t be afraid to go out on the ice, just give it the respect it deserves, do your research, and stay safe.

When you make it back from another successful ice outing, don’t forget to share some pictures with us on our Facebook page!

For a more detailed look at ice safety, please check out An Ice Safety Primer.

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Blogger, Aquatic Ecologist, Volunteer, and obsessed with all things fish. When she isn't trying to out-fish Darrell, Rebecca can be found working in her gardens or spending time with her horses.

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About argosgirl

Blogger, Aquatic Ecologist, Volunteer, and obsessed with all things fish. When she isn't trying to out-fish Darrell, Rebecca can be found working in her gardens or spending time with her horses.


  1. The little lake we were on Sunday had 4 inches, but the Madison lakes aren’t closed with ice just yet. And those 4 inches were cracking & popping a lot. I read about a woman in Lake Mills dying on Rock Lake because she drove her snowmobile onto open water. Early season is so iffy.

    • People on snowmobiles scare me on early ice. I’ve been out fishing and had them drive right up to me and ask if the ice is safe. They don’t check it themselves, and they don’t seem realize that safe ice for a walking human is different than safe ice for a person on a snowmobile. You said it best, early ice is iffy!

      • Yeah, the Madison lakes have an ordinance- no vehicles on them but snowmobiles and 3 or 4 wheelers, and even then, most people are smart about it. So, we almost never drive on the ice, and when we have, there’s been over a foot of it. It still scares me. I’m much rather walk my butt out to the spot.

        • I would love to have a sled or an ATV, I’m lazy 🙂 I’ve never driven on the ice, but if it was thick enough I would. It would beat running across the lake in my floater suit to get back the truck, speed home, and catch my loose horses like I had to last year!

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