How Thick Should the Ice Be for Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing is a great winter activity, and thousands of people will head out onto the ice each year.

But before you grab your gear and head out on the ice, you need to be sure that it’s safe. If you don’t trust me watch this!

One of the fundamental safety things to consider when ice fishing is how thick the ice is.

To help you enjoy ice fishing and to stay safe, we will break down the following for you:

  • How Thick The Ice Should be for Ice Fishing
  • How to Check the thickness of ice for ice fishing
  • General safety tips to consider while Fishing on ice.

So, let’s dive right in!

Thickness Guidelines

Not all ice is created equal. Snow and slush can freeze on top of a lake, which can create a thin layer of ice. It will look like a solid surface. But this “snow ice” is very weak. It consists of small pieces of ice which are packed together. If you were to step on this ice you would most likely fall through it.

For general ice fishing, a minimum of 4 inches of hard clear ice is needed to support one person on foot. For snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles, 5-7 inches of hard clear ice is needed, and 9-12 inches is needed for an automobile or small pickup truck. If you’re not sure about the thickness of the ice on your favorite lake, contact the Department of Natural Resources and ask for advice.

Here are some general guidelines for ice fishing issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Another resource is this Ice Safety Guide from the Utah State Parks department.

Ways to check the thickness of ice for ice fishing

Ice can form in layers, which are characterized by different colors.

Fresh, clear ice is stronger than opaque or snow ice. Four inches of clear ice is strong enough to support most people and their gear. Opaque or snow ice should be at least eight inches thick before you attempt to walk on it. But that isn’t enough. The thickness of ice also varies every few yards. It is important to assess the ice depth for a minimum of 150-feet around your set-up to be completely safe.

Here are some ways of checking ice thickness for ice fishing.

1.    Cordless Drill

You can determine if ice is safe by doing a test drill. For this, you can use a cordless drill with a 5/8-inch (1.6 centimeters) spade bit. Remove any small chips of ice that may be stuck to the shank of the bit before drilling; this will give you a more accurate reading. Place the drill on top of the ice and press down firmly so that it bites into the ice. Hold the drill steady until it has gone through the ice completely, stopping before it hits water if possible. You can then use a tape measure or ruler to check the depth.

You could also put a piece of tape around your drill bit, 4 inches from the tip. If you still see the tape above the ice after you’ve hit the water, then you know it’s not safe enough to fish on. Check several areas of your fishing spot by drilling more holes in slightly different spots nearby. Keep in mind that you’ll have to keep changing bits as they get dull while making holes in the ice.

2.    Ice Auger

Another way to check the ice depth is the use of an auger. It can either be manual or electric, depending on your preference. Manual augers will cost less than electric ones, but they require more physical effort to use properly. On the other hand, electric augers are easy to operate but require more working parts. For best results, use a power auger. A power auger can drill through eight inches of hard ice easily. To test the ice depth, drill multiple holes in different areas of the lake or pond and measure the depth of each hole with a tape measure.

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Preview
THUNDERBAY 33cc 8" Power Ice Auger
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VEVOR Ice Drill Auger, 8'' Diameter Nylon Ice Auger, 41'' Length Ice Auger Bit, Auger Drill w/ 14'' Adjustable Extension Rod, Rubber Handle, Drill Adapter, Replaceable Auger Blade for Ice Fishing Red
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3.    Ice Chisel

You can also use an ice chisel if you don’t have access to an auger or cordless drill. It is also easier to use than an auger because it doesn’t require much strength. Simply poke the chisel into the ice and measure how far down it goes, then add two inches (five centimeters) for safety’s sake.

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Eskimo CH12 64-inch Multi-Faceted, Triple-Action Chipper Head Design Ice Chisel
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Thunderbay Heavy Duty steel chisel for ice Fishing
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Eskimo CH11 59.5-inch Multi-Faceted, Triple-Action Chipper Head Design Ice Chisel,Red
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Safety Tips while Fishing on Ice

When it comes to ice fishing, safety measures are the first thing you should consider. This will help you avoid any unfortunate incidents while you are ice fishing. To err on the side of caution, it’s a good idea to follow these guidelines:

  1. Check the ice thickness in several different places before going out onto the ice.
  2. If you don’t have experience with ice fishing, take a guide with you on your first outing so that you can learn proper safety techniques.
  3. Dress warmly and keep a change of dry clothes if you get wet while fishing.
  4. Wear a life jacket to be safe on the ice.
  5. Always check the wind direction and temperature fluctuations before planning your trip. If the current temperature is above 28 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t go out on the ice.
  6. Always carry a cell phone or two-way radio with you in case of an emergency; if possible, keep it in a waterproof bag while on the ice.
  7. Carry a whistle or some form of a distress signal in case someone needs to hear you but can’t see you on the lake.
  8. Make sure there are no cracks in the surface around you.
  9. Carry an ice awl or a rope ladder for rescue purposes, just in case.

Takeaway

Fishing enthusiasts who prefer ice fishing to any other type of angling should have a few tricks up their sleeve to make sure the trip is enjoyable and worthwhile. Since there is a risk of falling through thin ice, you should always consider how thick the ice should be for ice fishing before venturing out onto it. This way, you will be able to catch some prized fish while being safe!

More Ice Fishing Guides and Tips

Picture Sources:

  • Ice Chisel – By Khayman – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6011099

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