Ice fishing tip: “reading” the ice

Ice conditions change quickly and not all ice is the same. Ice fishing beginners must learn how to read the ice and recognize danger spots when trying to locate the fish.

Always check with the local authorities and bait shops regarding the safest places to go ice fishing before you head out.

Ice Conditions

The thickness, colour, consistency and location of the ice all affect ice fishing safety.

Safe Ice Thickness
How thick the ice should be depends on the time of year and the conditions of the lake you are fishing on.

Most anglers will begin fishing when the ice thickness has reached a consistent depth of seven or eight inches.

Blue ice that allows you to see straight through is the safest and strongest.

Dangerous Ice
Opaque or white is is weaker, less consistent and less stable.
Stay away from ice that has a lot of air pockets or resembles a honeycomb.
Avoid areas where a current is running under the ice.

Cracked Ice
On large bodies of water it is especially important to watch and listen for cracking ice conditions. The ice can split between you and the mainland.

For ice fishing beginners, it is always wise to stay close to the shore.

Early Ice and Spring Thaw
Special precaution must be taken at the beginning and end of the winter. Monitor the ice reports carefully.

Whether anglers are ice fishing in shallow water and close to shore for perch and rainbow trout, or in deep water for walleyes, lake trout, whitefish pike and crappies, they must be careful out on the ice when the sean begins and ends.

Some ice fishing fanatics will begin the season with as little as four inches of ice thickness. This is not recommended. Safety must be the first priority on the ice so the best option is to wait until the ice conditions are more stable.

Preparing The Ice Fishing Trip

Tell someone where you are going and for how long. Be sure to stick to the schedule even if the fish are biting that day.

Go home when you start to get cold, wet or start to shiver. If you aren’t comfortable, get off the ice.

Watch the weather carefully. Winter storms can be deadly out on the lake.

Need More Ice-Fishing Information?
The Ice Fishing Equipment Tips page lists the basic gear beginners need to get started.

The Ice Fishing Techniques page has detailed tips on how to ice fish for perch, crappie, walleye, whitefish, pike and trout.

The Ice Fishing Clothes and Safety Gear page has advice on how to stay warm and safe on the ice.


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