Be a Safe Example on the Ice
Blog by: Matt Snider , Colorado 12/20/2020
With an early early September snowstorm, and some early early ice on local ponds in October, my hopes were high for a good front range ice season this year. Yet, here we are in mid/late December and I am still hoping for a long blast of frigid air to give all our local ponds and lakes a good solid concrete cap of ice!
So we ventured out onto 3 inches this weekend, and that felt pretty darn good compared to what I figured would be less - it was firm and solid and clear, and seemed to be of good construction. The problem with 3" isn't necessarily its strength, but its variability. When you're on a lid 12 inches thick, and you give or take a couple inches here and there for areas with anomalies caused by things like wind, snow, and pressure ridges, you still end up with plenty of ice to support you. When you're on 3, the next raw spot may be a half inch, and in you go.
I have seen folks on this kind of ice before that do not take common-sense precautions to be safe. This is obviously an issue of self-care, but I think it is also an issue of fishing access. The more people fall through the ice and require rescue or, worse, recovery, the more the park managers will talk about how to prevent future accidents. And you know exactly what that means - banning ice access.
I've seen local ponds begin to throw up "no ice fishing" signs. What they mean is "stay off the ice", but they are targeted at ice fishers. At first I didn't think much about it, knew it was inevitable. But then I began thinking, anglers are probably the most educated and conscious about ice safety, besides rescuers and insurance companies. Why ban them specifically?
Well, here's why I think that's the case. I've been out on in-town ice many times when passers-by feel that since I am out there, then it must be safe. They waltz out and ask about the fishing, sometimes wandering across the entire lake in places I did not check. Seeing ice fishers on the ice gives people a false sense of security. I point to my PFD and my spud bar and motion that it is thin in spots and they should stay close to shore. But off they go.
We are setting an example, ice fishing popularity is growing, and I am afraid of what's to come with future ice access. If we don't keep ourselves and others dry it is very easy for a management office to print, post and enforce "no ice fishing" signs. One solution may be setting rules for being on the ice to keep those signs in the closet where they belong. Just like boating - you would be required to have this and that, and if you don't, off the (frozen) water you go. That'd help keep wanderers off the ice. Could that open more lakes/ponds around me to ice fishing? That would be great.
For now, when you go out on the ice prepped for the worst, remember that it's not just your life you're saving but you are potentially saving our ice fishing opportunities and setting an example for those watching you.
For beginners, please have the following equipment at a minimum, especially when you don't know the ice, or you know it is potentially thin or variable. If you don't have these things right now then bypass that new ice rod and get them, or go to a lake with proven thick ice, or go with a friend who has the gear and can lead the way for you.
- PFD - I like the auto/manual versions, very comfortable and you forget you have them on. OR get a flotation jacket or bibs - then you have warm gear AND buoyancy.
- Spud Bar - this is essential on questionable ice. Chop the ice at least once per step on questionable ice. You may be surprised when your next chop may go through. I use a shortened wrecking/digging bar.
- Ice Picks - wrap them around your neck, use them to help grab the ice when you need to pull yourself out of the water.
- Throw Rope - I've never had to use this, but it's good to have. It's like having a tow rope for your vehicle - it's only good if there's someone else around, but worthy to have.
- Ice Spikes/Cleats - for your boots. Falling through the ice is not the only way to ruin your day and stave off the rescue teams. Cracking your head on a surface that seems to be harder than concrete (if that's possible) is not fun, and frankly quite dangerous.
There're a lot of things you need to have a complete ice fishing setup, but with these at least you'll be able to navigate uncertain ice and live to tell about it. I know it's highly advised to go with other people, but I also know the reality is that you can't always do this. If you're out alone, start your exploration near people (but not too close) that are already out and who might witness you going through. Lastly, use your words... talk to people leaving the ice and ask what kind of ice they found. I, and most anglers, are happy to share at least that little bit of information!
bron, CO 12/20/2020 6:23:50 PM
Good read and great advice Matt!
fishthumpre, CO 12/20/2020 7:27:39 PM
Good read. To me the most critical piece of equipment is the ice cleats. Had a good, cautious fisherman friend really hurt badly on ice with melting lid.
DrDKamm, CO 12/22/2020 8:46:15 PM
Points well made. Safety first, thanks for the article. Iím new to Ice fishing and this is great information.
Barnacles, CO 12/24/2020 9:32:29 AM
Very timely sir. I couldn't wait to charge out on the new ice & give it a try. Never heard about wearing ice picks, or a spud bar until I came on here and did some research. Thanks much.
Kithme, CO 12/26/2020 9:23:52 PM
Thanks Matt. Great timely post.
I am still new to ice fishing, especially early ice but wanted to learn early ice. I went out with some seasoned ice guys and learned quite a bit. I was the only one without ice cleats and boy did I feel the legs from shuffling all day.
Our two lead guys carefully spudded to the fishing spot. Found 4-5Ē of ice. After some slow fishing, on the way off the ice around noon, one guy fell thru relatively close to our vehicles. He was only a couple of feet off of a spot that was spud checked. That is how variable early ice is. The path we took was along the shoreline and was relatively shallow, around 3.5í. Fortunately, the group was well prepared for the situation. Ice pick around his neck helped a little, a throw rope was the most effective and was able to pull him out without any issue. Iím pretty confident he would have been able to pull himself out with the ice pick. The situation was a little scary but everyone stayed calm. We all survived and made it to our vehicles without additional outside help.
Thank you for your posting, it was spot on. One thing I would like to suggest it to have an extra change of clothes and a blanket.
On a side note. You donít have to out run the bear, you just canít be the slowest in the group. In this case, donít be the heaviest guy. 🤭
For all of the judges out there. We all have different risk/reward tolerance. We take risk each time we step out of our homes. Early ice can be fun and worth the risk if you are well prepared.
Tight lines and stay safe.
ELVIS, CO 12/27/2020 7:13:09 AM
Very nice article , thank you Matt !!! totally agree with you on all points made , one thing i like to add to your list is bring an other set of full clothing including a bath towel in a back bag with you and keep it in your vehicle and never take it out for the ice fishing season from your vehicle . I have one of the floatation suites Icearmor by clam got it last year at Scheels for the price of $ 340 .00 . You can't put a price tack on your own life !!!! I also bring two pairs of gloves , water and wind proofed , two pairs of Ice cleats as well as Hand and Foot warmers with me on the Ice . And I never go on the Ice with out my Spud Bar in my hand and my Spikes around my neck , no matter how thick the ice is, Happy Sunday to you all .
Matt Snider (Matt), CO 12/28/2020 12:26:58 PM
I was out on Stagecoach on some sketchy ice recently, felt comfortable, but made sure to chop my way out carefully. Sure enough I got out a little ways and the ice sounded different so I took a second chop with the spud bar and it went through, slipped out of my hands and thankfully the wide cap got stuck in the ice. Dug it out and retreated and then caught good fish in shallower water! The list on this blog is intended to keep you from going through or cracking your head... but I totally agree with keeping an extra set of clothes in the car! Maybe I'll post another blog including additional helpful items based on my experience.