As ice slowly creeps across the ice belt, I find myself chomping at the bit hardly waiting to get out on the ice for some early ice fishing. Despite my love for ice fishing, one thing I never take for granted on early ice is safety. Safety consists of three critical points: Equipment, knowledge, and attitude.
First ice can and will turn on a dime and hand you change. One day the ice can be 3 inches thick (the recommended minimum thickness for human weight), the next day it could be gone. Weather conditions, and ambient temperature changes play a big role on how ice is forms.
When it comes to equipment, I depend on: cleats, spud, and the internet. Many anglers get hurt not falling in the ice, but ON the ice. Slips and trips are the leading source of injury to ice anglers. First ice is very smooth and slippery; so to provide traction, I use cleats, a device that attaches to the bottom of one’s boot. One can find cleats at any sports shops, they range from $20.00 all the way up to $50.00. I use Yak Trax Extreme, however I’ve seen success with Yak Trax Pro as well.
A spud is the most important piece of equipment for early ice fishing. A good spud will tell you how thin the ice is and will serve as hole making tool. When I’m checking out first ice or questionable ice, I spud every step of the way. Typically, I try to make sure that I get 3 good solid hits before my spud goes through the ice before making another step. Spuds come in a variety of shapes and sizes from rebar to solid steel with a wooden handle. When shopping for a spud, make sure it is SOLID. Keep in mind that this is a device that determines safe ice and your personal safety rests on the purchase.
For early ice fishing that requires travel, I often turn to the internet. Forums in Hot Spot Outdoors provide me with up to date reports on ice conditions and fish bite from the locals of that area. Guides and local anglers are pretty good about being honest about ice depth and lures of that specific region. If I’m seeing less then desirable ice conditions or reports, I stay home. No need to waste a trip for a wet foot.
For early ice, I try to make sure I know the water I am on. Personally, I don’t like to fish water deeper than one foot past my height (7 feet). If I fall in, I want to make sure that I can kick out of the hole instead of swimming around looking for where I fell in at. For accurate depth readings, I use my Marcum Showdown. First ice is very clear, so I simply pour some water and set my transducer on the ice. The Showdown gives me an accurate column shot through the ice including water depth.
Lastly, a good attitude on the ice is important. I’ve seen so many times people breaking away from the pack to fish a favorite spot that is known to the locals as unsafe. Despite being told the spot is unsafe, the person still has to check it out. Listen to the locals, many of whom sit on the ice day after day, year after year. They know a specific spot and can tell you the bad spots.
With the right equipment, know how , and attitude ; I hope you all have a safe and successful ice fishing season.
By: Anthony Larson
Anthony Larson has been ice fishing the Coulee Region for over 30 years and owns Coulee Region Adventures, a guide service and online store. He is on the pro staff for Castalia Outdoors, PK Lures, Swish Rods, and Strikemaster.