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Ice-fishing safety always begins with ice thickness

This is the first installment in a four-part series of articles on ice-fishing for beginners. Next week: Clothing.

Jared Lorensen, fisheries biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, uses a spud bar to check ice conditions before heading out with his ice-fishing equipment. (Nebraskaland Magazaine/NGPC)

By Jerry Kane
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

LINCOLN, Neb. — Catching fish through the ice can be a fun way to spend a winter day. Winter days are shorter, so any time spent outdoors is a bonus. But with ice-fishing, safety always should come first.

It always starts with ice thickness. When is the ice thick enough to go out for some ice-fishing? It depends.

One thing is certain: It’s more fun when fishing with a friend. From a safety standpoint, it’s especially smart when ice-fishing.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has some tips for a safe ice-fishing outing on the lake.

• A minimum of 3 inches of clear, blue lake ice will support a single angler; 5 inches will hold several anglers in single file.

• Slush ice is about half as strong as clear lake ice, so anglers should double the minimum thickness figures when encountering such conditions. Ice weakens with age, and late in the season, when it becomes dark and honeycombed, it is time to quit fishing for the season.

• Be especially careful on any lake that has moving water in it. Water movement hinders freezing, often leaving hard-to-detect thin spots.

• Materials imbedded in the ice, such as weeds or logs weaken ice. Large objects on the ice, such as duck blinds or ice shacks, can absorb the sun’s heat and weaken ice. Ice near shore may be weakened by heat from the ground.

• Use an ice chisel or spud bar to strike the ice and evaluate conditions as you venture out.

• Wear ice picks around your neck in case the worst happens and you need something to grip the ice to pull yourself out of the water.

• Wear ice cleats on your boots for traction.

• Have a long throw rope with you in case of emergency.

Drowning is one immediate danger from falling through the ice, but hypothermia, a rapid, drastic lowering of body temperature that causes loss of the use of limbs, disorientation, unconsciousness, and heart failure, is the real threat.

Dress warm, be safe and have fun on the ice this winter.

For more on ice-fishing safety, watch a video at outdoornebraska.gov/howtofish.

Anglers can learn the basics of ice-fishing or pick up a few new tips from experienced anglers at virtual Discover Ice-Fishing clinics in Jan. 16 and 19. Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Fish and Game Association will host the classroom clinics via Zoom. Register to attend one or both sessions by going to the calendar event entries at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.

About Jerry Kane

Jerry Kane is the news manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He can be contacted at jerry.kane@nebraska.gov or 402-471-5008.

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