After a mild November, the arctic blast that settled over Wisconsin may trigger ice fishing fever for many folks. In our office it’s been a hot topic of conversation since the first snowflakes stuck to the ground. Before you head out, be sure to check on ice conditions either online at a website like Lake-Link or by calling your local bait shop or fishing club. If conditions seem safe based on reports, it’s still important for even the most experienced ice angler to take precautions.

The image to the right shows minimum safety guidelines for ice according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR). Ice thickness and strength can vary even on the same body of water and is never 100 percent safe. As you venture out onto the ice, check the ice every 150 feet.

Additional ice safety tips from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR):

To learn more about ice safety, visit the WDNR or MNDNR websites.

  • Dress warmly in layers. Be sure to protect your feet and hands.
  • Don’t go alone. Head out with friends or family. Take a cell phone and make sure someone knows where you are and when you are expected to return.
  • Know before you go. Don’t travel in areas you are not familiar and don’t travel at night or during reduced visibility.
  • Avoid inlets, outlets or narrow that may have current that can thin the ice.
  • Watch your surroundings. Look for clear ice, which is generally stronger than ice with snow on it or bubbles in it. Avoid ice close to open water.
  • Carry some basic safety gear: ice claws or picks, a cellphone in a waterproof bag or case, a life jacket or other personal flotation device (PFD) and length of rope.

If you fall through the ice, it’s important to remain calm, act quickly, and keep your head above water. Once your head is back above water, go back toward the direction you came. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface of the ice. Do not remove your winter clothing which can provide flotation and warmth from trapped air. Don’t stand up once you are out of the water. Lie flat and roll away from the hole and spread your weight to keep from falling back through. Get to a warm, dry area. It’s essential that you warm up immediately. You may need to seek medical attention if you experience moderate to severe cold-water hypothermia. According to the DNR, cold blood trapped in your extremities may rush back to your heart after you begin to warm up. The shock of the cooled blood can lead to a heart attack.

If your vehicle breaks through, it’s important to escape before it sinks. While the car is still afloat, your best chance for quick escape is through the side windows. A vehicle with its engine in the front will likely sink at a steep angle. As the car starts its final plunge to the bottom, water will rapidly displace remaining air making it unlikely that any air would remain by the time the vehicle hits the bottom.

What should you do if you fall through the ice?

The most important take-away message is to remember that ice is never 100 percent safe.

Here’s to a fun filled and safe ice fishing season! See you on the ice.

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