Is Ice Fishing Dangerous?

Ice fishing can be dangerous if you don’t practice the proper safety measures. The potential risks include falling on the ice and injuring yourself, or even worse – into the water and drowning.

There’s also a handful of dangers associated with being out in the cold, such as frostbite and hypothermia. However, just like any winter activity, you must be prepared before you go ice fishing. By taking simple safety measures, you can quickly reduce the risk of injury. 

Ice fishing for the first time and without proper gear is very dangerous. Moreover, it can be dangerous if you’re not aware of the local weather conditions or not dressed appropriately. The Risk goes down the more experienced you are. 

To help you better understand the question, “is ice fishing dangerous,” we’ll explore the history of ice fishing, safety tips, and general ice fishing topics that might interest you. Furthermore, we’ll touch on the most popular places to go ice fishing in the United States. Keep reading to learn more about this fun winter pass time. 

The History of Ice Fishing

Ice fishing isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been around for quite a while. Although we don’t know exactly when humans started to ice fish, some scientists suggest that indigenous began fishing in frozen water over 2,000 years ago.

As you can imagine, ice fishing was very different back then. Natives living on the land that makes up the United States and Canada used spears instead of a standard fishing pole. They’d put a hole in the ice and then wait patiently for a fish to appear. Once a fish swam by, the natives would use the spear to kill and catch the fish.

We know that Native Americans were experts of the land, so surely spearing fish wasn’t the only way they captured their food in the winter. There’s also evidence that suggests that indigenous people would cut a piece of wood so that it resembled bait. Then, they’d place the lumber into the water and wait till much larger fish fell for the trap. Some people still use this technique today (dark house fishing).

Today, ice fishing is popular worldwide, especially in areas with long winters. Of course, nowadays, we have more sophisticated techniques that enable us to catch more fish in less time. Nevertheless, some people still enjoy resorting to the indigenous ways of spearing fish beneath the ice.  

Ice Fishing Safety Tips

As we alluded to earlier, ice fishing can prove dangerous for those that don’t follow the best practices. It is risky because you’re on frozen water and because you’re exposed to frigid temperatures. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re on an ice fishing trip, so it’s essential to follow some safety tips:

  • Always bring someone with you.
  • Don’t go on the ice if it measures two inches or less.
  • Pack several bottles of water to stay hydrated.
  • Wear multiple layers to keep warm and protect from frostbite.
  • Don’t go close to any water that’s moving. 
  • Never drink alcohol while you’re ice fishing.
  • Pack rescue gear in case of an emergency. 
  • Talk to locals about the conditions before going on the ice.
  • Bring handspikes should you fall into the water.
  • Don’t forget your cell phone at home; always take it with you.

Ice Fishing Facts and Statistics

Want to learn more about ice fishing? Here’s a list of some interesting facts and statistics (including some that aren’t super cheerful):

What You Should Wear When You Go Ice Fishing

It’s essential to wear the proper clothing while ice fishing to avoid hypothermia and frostbite. And since the weather can change rapidly in the winter, it’s always best to dress conservatively.

The general rule of thumb is that you should wear multiple layers, including thermal underwear. Moreover, many people recommend sporting wool or fleece clothing to retain more heat while you’re fishing. Always bring a hat, a pair of gloves, and something to cover your face. 

If you plan to go ice fishing more than once, it’s an excellent idea to buy an ice bib. Ice bibs are super-insulated overalls. You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $400 and upwards for a pair of high-quality bibs. Many outdoor clothing stores sell bibs, including Eddie Bauer, Cabela’s, and Farm and Fleet. Their primary purpose is to keep out cold air and water while retaining heat. 

Instead of wearing a regular winter coat, you should also consider investing in an ice fishing jacket.

What’s the difference between an ice fishing jacket and a regular one? These jackets are typically waterproof and boast durable materials. They’re also relatively expensive; you can expect to pay around $300 for the average jacket. Many products also boast unique technology, such as Surefloate®, that helps you stay above the water if you fall through the ice. 

No matter what you wear on your next ice-fishing trip, you’ll want to make sure to stay insulated and avoid clothing that absorbs moisture. 

How Cold Does It Have to Be to Ice Fish?

Water freezes at a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, you’ll want to go ice fishing when it’s at least 32 degrees or less. If the temperature is above 32, there’s a chance that the ice could slowly start to melt. On the other hand, you shouldn’t go fishing if it’s too cold, either. Many anglers avoid going out if the temperature is below zero degrees.

You should also be mindful of hypothermia – an extreme drop in your body temperature. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypothermia can kick in even at 40 degrees. If the temperature drops below zero, you can get frostbite in a matter of minutes. When you go ice fishing, it’s essential to consider the actual temperature and the windchill. A low windchill means the temperature can feel much colder. 

What Kind of Fish do You Catch Ice Fishing?

The type of fish that you catch while ice fishing varies greatly depending on where you are. Nevertheless, many places in the Midwest – especially near the Great Lakes, have similar types of fish. At the same time, these places are some of the most popular ice fishing destinations. 

Here’s a list of some of the most common fish you can catch while you’re out on the ice:

  • Trout
  • Pike
  • Dolly Varden
  • Crappie
  • Walleye

These fish species make for a great dinner, especially when paired with a sweet cup of hot chocolate.

How Thick Should the Ice Be When You’re Ice Fishing?

You should never get on the ice if it measures less than three inches in thickness. If you do, there’s a good chance that you could fall in the water. Generally, most anglers won’t get on the ice unless it measures at least four inches.

However, measuring four inches isn’t the only requirement – the ice should be consistent. If there are areas where the water is puddling on top of the water, you should stay away.

Now, how do you know if the ice can support an ATV, car, or larger truck? Ice with a thickness of four inches can support an average-sized person. Once the ice measures six inches, you can safely drive an ATV on it. Before you take a car out on the ice, you’ll want it to measure approximately 12 inches. If the ice measures 12 inches are more, then you can drive a truck on it. 

Even if a park’s website tells you the ice thickness, it’s always best to measure the ice yourself. Perhaps the most popular way to figure out the ice’s measurement is to use an ultrasonic thickness gauge. With this device, you can merely scan the ice and get a reading. 

How Much Does it Cost to Go Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing is a relatively affordable winter pass time, especially if you already have the gear. At a minimum, you can expect to pay at least $200. However, it’s sometimes cheaper if you go out on the ice with an excursion company. 

A Final Look

The consensus is that, yes, ice fishing can be dangerous. There’s a handful of risks, including falling through thin ice and being exposed to freezing temperatures. However, as mentioned above, only a few people die each year in North America while ice fishing.

If you bring the right gear and go fishing with a buddy, it becomes much safer. Always make sure that the ice is safe beforehand; talk to locals and measure the width of the ice. As long as you follow proper safety protocols, you should have no issues. Now, go out and catch some fish!

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