For starters, it’s important to remember that it’s rare for ice to freeze at a uniform rate. Because of this, know that what constitutes a safe depth can vary on a given lake or pond. For example, three inches of ice on a farm pond may pose little danger, while three inches of ice on a stream or river could be an accident waiting to happen. Also, early March and April temperature can be a recipe for unsafe ice.

There are some tips that can be employed to help ice anglers minimize their risks on the ice. First, it’s smart to wear a personal flotation device. Ice spikes are great, too, or if you don’t have any, carrying a couple of large nails and a length of light nylon rope do the job, too. If you should go through the ice, these tools will keep you gripped to the ice help you get out should you fall through. These vital pieces of gear save lives every year, so it’s in your best interest just to wear one while you fish.

While it’s never a good idea to ice fish alone, if you must, be sure to leave information about your plans with someone you know and trust. Tell that person where you plan to fish and when you plan to return.

Do your homework and get to know the conditions of the ice before venturing out onto it. While doing this, take into consideration any recent weather changes and how that may impact the conditions of the ice. Here, it can also benefit you to check with local sources—local bait shops or DNR branches—for up-to-date ice conditions.

Once you get to the lake, it’s smart to use an ice spud bar or an auger to test the ice ahead of you as you move. Also, avoid any ice near flowing water, around inlets and outlets of streams, or near areas with aeration devices. Be especially wary of river ice, because it depth can vary due to the erosive action of the underlying river current. On a river, eight inches of ice can turn into two inches over the span of a few feet.

If you do break through the ice, try not to panic and instead, concentrate on staying calm. Turn toward the direction you came from—toward the ice that supported you—and use the ice spikes, or your hands, to gain a hold on the unbroken surface, using your feet to move. Don’t stand up once you get back onto the ice, but roll away from the hole until you’re on solid ice. Now, if you witness someone else fall through the ice, don’t panic, and don’t run towards them. To help them, carefully extend a solid, lengthy tool, such as a rope, ladder, or pole.

Ice fishing can be a great winter pastime that many look forward to each year. However, it’s important to remember to use caution when you’re on the ice. Learn all you can about the lake or pond where you plan to fish beforehand, make sure to bring safety equipment with you, and remember that no ice is truly safe. These tips may save your life this ice season.

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