The moment we have all been waiting for is finally here... it's time to hit the ice and start fishing! Some of the best fishing of winter takes place during early ice season. We know you’ve been eagerly waiting to get out there, but we want to help make sure you are doing it safely.
So, we sat down with Brad Hawthorne and asked him to provide a few safety tips that will be helpful to remember before you make your first steps on the ice this season.
1. Don't Be a Follower“This is the number one mistake I see,” says Hawthorne. “You should never assume that ice is safe to fish just because you saw someone out there on a bucket earlier. They might not be out there safely, and even if they are, conditions can change in a matter of hours.”
2. Wear a Striker Ice Fishing Suit with Sureflote® Flotation
“Wear an ice fishing suit that will not only keep you warm, but keep you afloat if something happens,” advises Hawthorne. All Striker ice suits are made with Sureflote® flotation in both the jacket and the bib. The Sureflote® layer is moisture resistant and provides superior user mobility and added protection in the extreme cold. The combined jacket and pant/bib with Sureflote® provide flotation assistance for up to two hours for an average person. Striker ice fishing jackets and bibs are available in Men's, Women's, and Youth sizes, so there is a warm and safe Striker ice fishing suit for you and all of your fishing partners.
3. Bring Proper Safety Equipment
“Your equipment list should include: a spud bar or ice chisel for checking thickness as you walk out, a Striker fishing ice suit with Sureflote® that will keep you reliably afloat if you experience the shock of falling through; a throwable PFD; and ice picks to assist in getting out. Take the time to invest in the safety essentials. Hopefully, you won’t need to rely on them, but you won't regret having them if you get into a dangerous situation,” suggests Brad.
4. Don't Go Out Alone
Even if you own all the necessary safety equipment, self-rescue can be extremely difficult, and the reward is not worth the risk. Have a group with you no matter what. Hawthorne mentions, “I typically have at least 2-3 people with me when we first hit ice. In the event of a fall-through, multiple helping hands on-site can make the difference between a quick escape and a full-blown emergency rescue.”
It's important for everyone in your group to explicitly discuss and understand the course of action if someone falls through the ice. You have a throw rope, but how should you use it? It might seem like common sense, but common sense can go out the window in emergency situations. Take a minute to talk it over.
5. Have a Communication Plan
6. Don't Attempt to Fish Moving Water
If you're tempted to return to your late-fall hot-spot on the river once ice shows up, find a new spot. There really is no such thing as reliable first ice on bodies of water that have a current beneath. Moving water is unforgiving and the ice above it is simply too unstable to be safe.
7. Stay Sober
Although many anglers might appreciate pairing a few cold ones with a day on the ice, fishing thin ice is especially dangerous to mix with alcohol. When asked, Hawthorne said, “Lakes can be unpredictable and staying sharp at all times is an absolute key to safety and success, especially in the early season. Make sure you have the ability to safely assess a situation and the ability to get out of a danger if something were to happen.”
8. Pay Attention to Ice Movement
Ice is very active and it's important to pay attention to dynamic factors that affect ice movement, such as temperature and snow coverage. According to Hawthorne, one key contributor is movement of the sun. "When the sun comes up, the ice will expand; even if it's 40 degrees below zero, there is always some movement. The second the sun goes down, the ice contracts. You can have a 1-inch crack at first light that becomes a 6-inch gap by the time you come back in."9. Check Your Ego at the Door
Nobody will know of your early-ice success if you don't make it back to tell the tale. Additionally, if you're new to early ice, nobody is judging you. Bring along someone with knowledge and experience, and don't be afraid to ask questions. It can be helpful to talk to local resorts and lodges. Many of them are out staking safe trails and checking ice constantly.
Remember, you need to be able to trust your own equipment and your own eyes. Hawthorne's rule of thumb is, "Once you put one foot on that ice, you are ultimately responsible for yourself." Stay safe and stay fishing!