By Montana Grant

Posted: December 15, 2018

“When on thin ice your safety is in your speed!” No one wants to break through ice and end up in freezing cold water. The quick cold dip can cause shock and hypothermia. No fish is worth dying over. So how do you know when the ice is thick enough to safely move across?

At 250 pounds, Montana Grant waits for about 5 inches of ice. Once wearing heavy boots, clothes and gear, the weight only goes up. Add several huge fish, and you see what I mean. Little skinny anglers may get away with thinner ice but…

Once you get to the lake, use some binoculars to scan who is already out there. Are they walking, using wheelers, or trucks? Some lakes can freeze to 3-4 feet thick of ice. Examine the ice at the shoreline. If the ice is clear, you can see air pockets and estimate a depth. The ice depth will change as you venture out. Thicker ice tends to be closer to shorelines.

Cutting routine test holes will give you a better feel for the ice depth. Many ice fishermen are now using battery drills to run their augers. Take a long drill bit and drill a small quick hole. Check the depth and measure. If you are not sure, then stay on the shore.

Not all ice is the same. Soft or slushy ice can be more dangerous than thin ice. After a few days of warmer weather, the surface may begin to melt. A night of downward freezing temperatures will freeze the surface but leave a soft sub surface layer. New ice tends to be the strongest. Old ice can be unpredictable.

In some cases, inflows of water from creeks may begin to flow on top of the ice. This can create a wet surface a few inches deep but frozen solid underneath. Ice moves and creates huge cracks and fissures. Look for areas that open and close. In Montana, geothermal features and springs can also create areas where the ice is thinner. On reservoirs that are for public water systems, the water levels can change like tides.

Think safety when heading onto the ice. Cleats on smooth, slick ice are important. Ice picks around your neck, may be required to exit a breakthrough. Floatation ice fishing suits are a good idea, but you still need to get out of the cold water. Having a throw rope can also be vital to saving a fellow fisherman.

The best rule is to anticipate the worst and be prepared.

Montana Grant

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