Ice fishing is one of those things in which, so long as you follow as the recommended safety precautions, you shouldn’t be unduly afraid. But it’s also true that you can never eliminate the danger entirely. What dangers are we talking about? Like any activity that involves leaving the house, you have to get to and from the ice fishing spot. Hypothermia is another danger and not just from falling through the ice. Especially young children and the elderly can be susceptible to the sneakier, more insidious kind of hypothermia that can set in gradually even without getting wet.
Nevertheless, one of the tangible, ever-present dangers inherent to ice fishing is falling through the ice into sub-freezing water. Some areas of the country have a knack for extended periods of extremely cold weather. Some years many areas of the country may seem an extensive freeze. I have friends from Cincinnati who still talk about the winter of 78 with weeks of blizzard-like conditions and, in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you could actually walk across the entire Ohio River.
But here’s the thing: Even when it’s been really cold for a really long time, large bodies of water are tricky things in which the ice doesn’t freeze with a consistent thickness.
Basic Ice Fishing Safety
So, what are the recommended safety precautions? First, you need to verify that the ice is sufficiently thick. Don’t assume just because you see people ice fishing on the other side of the same lake that it’s necessary safe where you’re planning to fish. Unless you’re going to a closely monitored area and you plan to stay within the designated ice fishing zones, you need to bring your own equipment and be prepared to verify the thickness of the ice.
Even still, it’s impossible to eliminate the danger entirely, especially when you can’t control the behavior of those around you. If you or someone near you falls through the ice, knowing the basic rules for surviving a fall through the ice can be life-saving information.
There are dramatic pictures of people and property that have fallen through ice and equally dramatic rescue/survival stories out there, but it’s worth remembering that there is also some danger just being out in freezing temperatures. We expect you know your own limits of personal comfort, but simple items like hand-warmers and high-tech thermoses can make for a much more pleasant time. For safety, it’s also good to be (over)-prepared. Rather than trying to remember all the essential survival items every time out, keep a kit in your vehicle with first-aid and survival gear including potable water and rations.