Is Ice Fishing Dangerous? Here are Expert Tips and Safety Measures

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Is ice fishing dangerous? YES! Ice fishing is dangerous as it has many risks and hazards. To be safe, ensure you evaluate the ice condition before you start ice fishing and keep checking the ice’s strength and thickness. In addition, ensure that the ice has no pressure ridges and cracks. Other safety precautions you should observe include wearing warm clothes and carrying safety equipment like ice picks and floatation devices. It’s also good to have a communication device and a plan you can follow in case of an emergency. Following the basic ice safety rules ensure you enjoy ice fishing with minimal risks of getting into accidents.

Most accidents and deaths occur when anglers don’t take the necessary precautions when ice fishing. So, how do you ensure you observe ice fishing safety before venturing out? Here are expert ice fishing safety tips you should always follow before starting your adventure.

Evaluating Ice Safety

Not every frozen water body is safe for ice fishing. Ensure you check the ice quality before you start drilling holes. The recommended ice thickness should be at least 10 cm for walking and 18cm for a snowmobile or an ATV. If you’re planning to move on the ice using a small car, ensure the thickness is over 35 cm.

By checking the ice color, you can also know whether the lake or river is safe for ice fishing. Blue ice or clear ice is quite strong and can withstand pressure without breaking easily. Clear ice is usually the first fresh ice in early winter and is of the best quality.

White ice is also suitable for ice fishing as long as it’s within the recommended thickness. However, when fishing on white ice, ensure you keep listening to the sounds of cracks, and if you experience severe cracking, leave the location immediately.

Never fish on discolored or grey ice because ice fishing there is unsafe. It’s advisable to familiarize yourself with the area you’ll be going ice fishing. Rivers, channels, and streams have currents that make them have thinner ice.

Also, be careful if running water enters a reservoir or lake. These moving water bodies may interfere with the ice formation, thus making it dangerous for ice fishing.

The problem with fishing in waters that are not stationary is they make the ice about 20% thinner, which can fail to withstand the weight of a human. When fishing in such water bodies, check the ice thickness regularly.

The low temperatures make many anglers look for a way of warming themselves up when ice fishing. Some are unaware of the dangers of ice fishing related to using some heaters in their ice fishing tents.

Some ice fishing heaters can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is hazardous as this gas doesn’t emit smell or taste. Take the heater out of your ice fishing tent if you start experiencing headaches, drowsiness, and nausea.

Some ice anglers prefer fishing after sunset. Ice fishing in such wild and distant locations can be fatal as you can fall into drilled holes or cracked ice. Always carry your phone and GPS to help you navigate unfamiliar terrain.

Safety Equipment and Clothing

It’s essential to wear the appropriate clothing and carry safety equipment when going ice fishing. Here is a list of things that all ice anglers should have.

1. Flotation Device and Life Vest

A floatation suit and a life vest will save you in case of an accident. Although life vests are more comfortable when ice fishing, it’s advisable to have a flotation device to prevent you from sinking and also becoming trapped by the ice.

2. Cleats

Cleats are beneficial, especially when fishing on thin ice, because thin ice cracks easily when you fall. Cleats protect you from slipping and falling through the ice and sustaining injuries like broken bones and sprains. 

3. Ice Picks/ Ice Claws

Ice picks will save you if you fall through the ice. They will help in pulling you to safety. There are numerous ice picks in the market, and you should buy those that you can wear around your neck.

4. Ice Chisel

An ice chisel is a must-have piece of equipment to help you check the ice thickness. It warns you if the ice is too thin to walk on.

5. Marine Whistle

How do you alert the security or other ice anglers that you’re in danger? A marine whistle will produce a shrill pitch that can be heard over sharp winds and sounds.

6. A Cellphone

Ensure you carry a fully charged cellphone to help you communicate in an emergency. Ideally, you should place it in a waterproof bag or case to prevent the water from getting in.

7. A Contour Map

A contour map will help you know the area you’ll be going ice fishing. Check with the local agency in the same lake to help you with the contour map to give you a point of reference.

8. Hats and Mittens

Remember, you’ll be spending most of your time on ice-cold water. Hats and mittens keep your head and hand warmer because they trap more body heat.

Other essential equipment you should carry include a pylon, reflector, flag, flare, rope, measuring tape, and extra floating clothes to assist other anglers who might need them.

9. Emergency Procedures

Even if you follow basic safety rules, an accident can occur. If this happens, you should be prepared to rescue yourself. Always ensure you wear a flotation device and have some ice picks around your neck.

If you happen to fall through the ice, there are things you should do to rescue yourself. First, you should call for help. As you wait for someone to rescue you, try to climb the broken ice and ensure you don’t push it down.

Use your life jacket to help you float on the water. If you’re lucky enough to climb back on the ice, crawl gently, using your stomach away from the cracked ice. Don’t stand up; spread out your arms and legs to distribute your weight evenly.

Watch the video below on how to do a self rescue.

YouTube video

If you’re saving someone else, you should run and call for help from trained professionals. You can also use a radio, cell phone, or whistle to ask for help; however if the angler is at a close distance where you can rescue them with a branch or pole.

You can lie down near the broken ice to spread your weight evenly. Next, throw your rescue item and ensure the person is kicking when pulling them out. Remember, you cannot perform a rescue if the ice has many cracks.

Someone who has fallen through the ice is likely to suffer from hypothermia. This condition occurs when your body temperatures significantly drop.

Some of the common hypothermia symptoms include:

  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation
  • Uncontrollable shaking or shivering

Once someone is rescued after falling through the ice, take them to a confined space with a heat source. Also, ensure you give them dry clothes and warm drinks. If the symptoms get worse, seek medical attention immediately.

Best Practices for Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is fun, but you must follow the proper precautions to prevent falling through the ice, fish hook injuries, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Here are safety tips you should follow every time you go ice fishing.

Keep Checking the Ice Thickness

Always check the ice thickness before venturing out. If the new ice looks whitish or suspicious, double-check the thickness. Ideally, this kind of ice should be double the thickness of clear or blue ice.

Always Fish as a Group

If possible, go ice fishing with your fellow anglers. This means you’ll have company when fishing, and in case of an accident, your fellow anglers will help you or ask for help.

Notify Someone Where You’re Going

If you prefer fishing alone, ensure you’ve notified someone where you are going and the time they should expect you back. That way, they can check if you fail to come back at the time.

Always Carry a Mobile Phone

You can use the phone to ask for help. To prevent the phone from getting wet, ensure you place it in a zip-loc bag. Ideally, you should ask for the emergency phone number of the authorities responsible for the water body you’ll be fishing at.

Wear Appropriate Clothes

Ice fishing is more dangerous compared to traditional fishing. You’re at risk of getting frost bites and hyperthermia. That’s why it’s advisable to wear warm clothes. Also, wear sturdy footwear to prevent slips and broken bones.

Always Wear a Flotation Aid

Most anglers don’t like wearing them because they can hinder you from ice fishing successfully. However, they can help you if you fall through the ice because they keep you floating as you wait for help.

Use Electric Heaters

If you want to use a heater, invest in an excellent electric ice fishing heater because they don’t emit carbon monoxide. Your ice fishing shelter should also have vent flaps to aid air circulation.

Avoid Fish Hook Injuries by Taking the Necessary Measures

Some fish hook injuries are quite painful and dangerous. You can avoid them by wearing thick, durable ice fishing gloves. Also, you should invest in a fishing hook with safeguards and ensure you use a set of pliers when removing the hooks.

Mark All Your Fishing Holes

Ice fishing holes can be hazardous if left unattended. To protect yourself and other anglers, make sure you mark the holes. Most anglers use tip-ups because they have bright flags visible from afar.

Hire a Guide

Inexperienced anglers should be accompanied by an experienced guide to help them navigate through the ice.


If you’re ready to go on your next fishing trip, it’s advisable to observe all safety measures to minimize the dangers of ice fishing. Ensure you check the thickness of the ice and wear warm clothes to prevent falling through the ice and frost bites.

Also, bring all appropriate safety equipment like ice claws, floatation devices, ice chisels, marine whistles, and cleats. If you fall through the ice, you should call for help. As you wait for someone to rescue you, try to climb the broken ice and ensure you don’t push it down.

Following all the safety measures will significantly reduce the chances of getting injured when ice fishing. If it’s your first fishing trip, ensure an experienced angler or a guard accompanies you.

Diana Nadim
Fishing Expert
Diana began fishing at the age of seven, as it has been a long-time family tradition. From catching small bullheads to catching strippers on the backwaters of Bighorn, she loves to get out in the wild and have a marvelous day on the water. Her dad was an expert angler, and he taught her fishing along with her two siblings. They used to go to the Bighorn River in Montana and Henry’s fork, Idaho. As a pragmatic person, she is obsessed with creating well-researched and practical guides and reviews of the best fishing methods and gear.
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