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Ontario Fishing Network
Volume 3,  Issue 11 -  Nov.. 2003

Ice Fishing - Heed the Rules of Safety When Venturing Out"
 By Justin Hoffman

Ice fishing has to be the greatest winter activity known to men and women. The chance to enjoy the fresh air, make new friends and play tug-of-war with some feisty fish is what draws anglers again and again to these frozen playgrounds. But ice fishing does come at a risk, as no ice surface is 100% safe, no matter what body of water it encases. Being prepared before making that first step off the shore, taking the necessary safety equipment and having common sense will be your best bets for a fun-filled and risk-free season.

Ice is Not Created Equally
Ice may look very similar across most lakes, rivers and streams in North America, but looks can certainly be deceiving. Ice forms and freezes at different rates on each body of water, depending on water depth, current, snow cover and climatic changes. Therefore, each ice fishing outing should be assessed separately based on the above criteria.

The deeper the lake or river you fish, the longer it will take to freeze. This is also true for areas with a current (a very dangerous natural occurrence that must be approached with extreme caution) and also areas that contain underwater springs.

Heavy snow can also weaken and cause ice to freeze unevenly. Snow actually acts as an insulator to the ice below, meaning that the ice will freeze less quickly and uniform than if no snow were present.
Ice that is hard and blue in color is generally the strongest. Be wary of ice that is gray or dark in color, or porous areas throughout the ice that are usually signs of soft spots.

Ice Thickness
First ice can be a magical time to be out on the frozen water, but never rush into a situation until you find out the conditions you are getting into. The following guide gives a brief overview of suggested ice thickness and the corresponding activities they can uphold.

Thickness of Ice Activity
2" Unsafe for Use
3" One Cross Country Skier
4" One Angler
5" One Snowmobile
7" Group Activities
8" One Car
9" Several Snowmobiles
11" Light Truck

Always check the ice thickness each time you venture out. First ice, middle of the season and last ice can all change in the blink of an eye, so always keep that in mind and you can't go wrong.

General Rules
1. Wear a personal floatation device when out on the ice (life jacket, survival suit, floater pants and jacket.)
2. Fish with a partner if at all possible. Don't head out to secluded or isolated areas without bringing someone along.
3. Always let someone know where you will be fishing and the approximate time you will be returning.
4. Check with the Ministry or Bait and Tackle shops for current ice conditions before heading out.
5. Use an ice spud bar or auger to routinely check the thickness of the ice as you make your way further out from shore.
6. Never run or jump on ice.
7. Be wary of rivers as underwater currents can erode the ice from underneath, causing thin spots that are impossible to identify.
8. Be cautious around areas that ice huts have been removed. This ice will be thinner than the surrounding areas, and may also have open holes.

Falling Through
One of the most important pieces of equipment you can have with you on the ice is a set of picks. This device is simply a length of rope with a large nail or pick attached to each end. If you should fall through the ice, this instrument can be used to dig into the remaining sturdy ice and pull yourself out. I prefer to wear these around my neck at all times in case a fall occurs, enabling me to get to them quickly. There are many versions available on the market, but they can be easily made at home for under $10. This is inexpensive insurance that could save your life in my books.

If you do happen to go through the ice, there are a few guidelines that need to be followed to help you get to safety. First, try not to panic. This will lead to exhaustion and disorientation. Instead, try to think clearly and calmly, and turn toward the direction you came from. Once you reach solid ice, use your picks or your nails to gain a hold and begin to pull yourself up, while kicking your legs for assistance. Once up on solid ice, don't stand up. Roll your body away from the open hole until you are fully clear and a satisfactory distance away.

If you should happen to witness someone go through the ice, please don't run towards them. This will ultimately lead you into the water as well. Throw a rope or buoyant device to the victim and help in pulling them to safety. (A length of rope that is at least 50-feet long should always be carried in your pack to help in emergencies like this.)

Through all of my years of ice fishing, I've only been witness to two instances of people going through the ice. Both of these occurred when snowmobiles had hit pressure cracks and went in. I helped rescue one of these victims due to having a throw-rope. The other instance happened close by me during the darkness of night, and, although he was rescued very quickly and safely, his screams piercing the calm at the moment of going through will remain with me forever. These examples are not meant to scare or frighten, but more so to illustrate that accidents can happen. Thinking clearly is what can prevent them.

Ice fishing is a safe and fun sport for all to enjoy. With common sense and attention to detail, it really is no dangerous than open water fishing. Follow these rules, learn the safe way to ice fish and have fun doing a sport that is close to the hearts of all of us.

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Dymara also has some DYNAMITE ice fishing jigs!!

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