Safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to getting out fishing on first ice. Professional fishing guide Dave Randash reminds us of the first ice safety essentials and shares a must-have emergency throw rope that can help you save someone’s life and protect your own in the unfortunate event that someone falls through.
For starters, make sure you carry a spud bar and check ice thickness your entire way out on early ice. A simple yardstick or scrap piece of wood with markings and a hook at the bottom can quickly show when you hit 2″ and need to turn around. Generally, 4-5″ for foot traffic is what you’re looking for, but even then, proceed with caution.
Don’t forget that ice thickness can vary quickly. Especially early in the season, ice is never 100% safe. If an accident happens, you MUST make sure you have an emergency throw rope on hand. Let’s say someone falls through 30 yds away and the ice is cracking up around them. You might be able to belly crawl across that cracking ice to get to them to help, but throwing a rope is so much safer for everyone involved.
Randash recommends bringing out a waterskiing rope with a grip as your emergency throw rope (you may even have one you can pull out of the boat before storing it for the winter). The biggest, most often overlooked problem, is your ability to get the end of your safety rope out to someone who has fallen through the ice. With the ski rope, you can take that handle bar end and wrap a couple lead duck decoy weights to make it easier to toss a long distance across the ice. The other benefit of the handle bar is that even if someone has lost feeling in their hands, they can slip their arm through the open handle bar end easily for you to quickly drag them out.
Another thing people forget about when it comes to early ice fishing is wearing proper cleats on your boots. If someone does go through the ice, you especially need them for the leverage to help anchor you to pull them out. Later in the season, it’s important to have cleats or chains on the wheels of your machines as well, especially if there is little snow and you need to get out of a pressure ridge or other tough spot.
Think ahead and be prepared. These few simple things can help save your life or someone else’s on early ice if an accident happens.