The power of social media for passionate fisherman is undeniable, every season we see folks taking chances on thin ice. Most people go safely and very little happens, other than some stellar fishing and fantastic memories, something we all strive for.
Every year however, we still continue to see things go badly for a select few. Some, it's just lost gear and a cold swim to remind us just how fragile we are as humans. For others though, it's the ultimate sacrifice of leaving loved ones behind because of a seemingly simple and preventable tragedy.
I'm not here to preach to you what's considered safe ice or to stay off the ice until it's ultimately safe for most to drive onto. What I'm here to do today is to ask that if you're going to walk, drive or be on marginal ice in anyway, that you go prepared.
There's several manufacturers today that offer safety gear, at some cost to you, that should things go wrong you'll be prepped enough to get out and get to safety.
You're ultimate level of preparedness depends on where you fish in my opinion. For me, most fishing destinations in winter involve some sort of sled or ATV ride. That means for me, I will not go on less than 5" of good clear ice while 6-7" makes me even happier and I often wait the extra few days to go then.
With all that said, I take the following on first ice outings until I see a consistent 10" of ice.
SOME FISHING FRIENDS! Don't go alone on thin ice! If you ever see me in person, ask me about my solo first ice lesson that involved a cold swim some 20 years ago before much of this Ice gear was developed.
ICE CHIPPER BAR
The Nebulus flotation device, I don't personally own one yet but it's on my short list, these are a great idea especially with the significant investment these days in snowmobiles and ATV’s.
All that gear goes on with me until we have 10" of ice then I tend to relax a little as my comfort level increases.
With that said, there's my personal list of rules that go with that consistent 10" of ice that we see. This has been drilled into me since I was a kid by family growing up on a remote trap line definitely helped.
I avoid beaver houses and feed beds at all cost. Animal activity in winter means thin ice.
I will never ride between a narrow spot on the ice between islands or an island and mainland without checking the ice first. Current in these areas often means thin and dangerous ice. i.e. it may be safe one day and then not the next.
I only travel during daylight hours on unfamiliar water. It's easy to get turned around at night and travel into an unsafe potentially thin ice area.
Avoid swamps. Muskeg areas often hold heat long into the winter and as such should be checked carefully before crossing.
When going remote I carry the following:
2-3 ways to make fire. I like a BIC lighter and a Ferro cerium rod. I often carry an Altoids tin with petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls. Strike a Ferro rod into that and 1 cotton ball stays lit for 4-7 minutes. Plenty of time to catch the wettest of wood and get a reliable fire if needed.
Axe or folding saw. Need to feed that fire. I like to carry both.
First aid kit
Medium fixed blade knife.
Snowshoes. Should you have to walk for any reason.
5-700 calories of food. In our part of the world it takes on average 3 days for you to be found should things go really wrong and search & rescue needs to be called to find you.
My last point above brings up a very specific point. You should always plan when you travel to remote fishing destinations. Telling a loved one where you'll be going and sticking to that plan or general area is a good idea.
My wife always knows where I'm going and I often put a pin into a map to show her exactly where I'll be. It sounds like lots of gear right? This all fits in a backpack that makes its way onto my sled or ATV and weights no more than 30lbs.
While this may seem extreme or somewhat crazy think about this:
I don't get out of my truck and walk 300 yards onto the ice to go fishing. I may drive one hour from home then unload and ride a further 20-30 miles by sled or ATV. That's the reality in Northwestern Ontario. Why do I go this far? STELLAR fishing of course!
With Mother Nature slowly starting to cooperate and people starting to take to the ice, think about your situation and what it takes for you to be safe on early ice this season. Take the time to gear up accordingly and bring that gear with you. Your loved ones will certainly appreciate it. Have fun and be safe this season. Remember my personal limit is 5" of good clear ice. What is yours?