Arctic temperatures are freezing ponds and lakes in some parts of the country, which means ice-fishing season will soon kick off. In most areas, ice fishing usually starts in January and runs into March. Whether you’re braving the elements and sitting on a bucket in the open, or kicking back in a tricked-out, heated shanty watching television, there are a few safety measures to follow.
Shanties serve as a means of protection from the elements when ice fishing. They can be simple, portable shelters or elaborate structures with multiple rooms. Regardless of which type of shanty you’re using, if you employ a combustion heater, be sure to have enough ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning; open a window or door so that fresh air can circulate. Heaters are available that burn kerosene, but the propane heaters emit much less carbon monoxide, according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Portable combustion heaters are considered ventless and many include a CO sensor connected to an automatic shutoff feature. Vented unites are meant to be permanently installed with the flue emissions vented directly through the wall or ceiling. For any type of heater, consult the manufacturers instructions and abide by local regulations.
While ice shanties (also called ice shacks, ice houses, fishing shanties, fish houses, ice huts, etc.) can range the gamut from temporary structures to serious shelters, your investment should be protected with proper insurance…but what type? An ice shanty will likely be covered under personal property insurance as part of your homeowners or renters policy, but check with your agent about the specifics of your needs and what coverage is available.
Ice thickness: While some ice is safer than others, all ice is unpredictable, and safety should be the top concern of any angler. Clear, solid ice is considered to be the safest, according to Bass Pro Shops. Ice with snow covering it or ice found under bridges, in spring-fed bays or rivers is not to be trusted, because the insulating properties of snow and any currents can cause ice to thin. Ice is almost always thicker in the shallow water closer to shore.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, wait until lake ice is at least 4 inches thick before walking on it. If you’re venturing out with a friend and lots of gear, keep at least 50 feet between you until the ice is 4 inches thick. Don’t drive a snowmobile on ice less than 5 inches thick. You can check the thickness of ice with the help of an ice chisel, ice auger or cordless drill, and a tape measure.
Proper Safety Gear: The right clothing can help ward off hypothermia in the event you do fall through. According to the Minnesota DNR, insulated snowmobile suits may slow the effects of icy water (although they can become very heavy when they do finally soak through)–some can even be used as a flotation device.. Layering with warm clothes – including a base layer and a wool sweater – can help trap air and will even hold body heat when wet. Bringing a personal flotation device along can be helpful, as they can keep you afloat even when the shock of cold water hits.
Rescue Equipment: Rescue equipment includes items that can be used to save yourself or someone else. An ice pick or even screwdrivers can be used to help establish a grip on edge ice in the event of a fall-through. You can also carry whistles or an air horn to help signal for help, but perhaps the most important piece of rescue equipment when your life is in danger is a Personal Locator Beacon. According to the Federal Communications Commission, PLBs send a personalized distress signal via radio signals and GPS to center on your location and deploy search-and-rescue units–activated manually or automatically via immersion. Carrying a long coil of rope is also a good idea – you might need to use it to help save a fellow angler.
Don’t Panic: If you do happen to fall through the ice, it’s important remain calm. The cold water will take your breath away, but that response will wane as your body adjusts to the frigid water. After your breathing returns to normal, you can begin to try and escape. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources advises that you return to the side of the ice that last held your weight, but don’t try to simply pull yourself up onto the ice; instead, kick your feet until you lay atop the water and then pull yourself up onto the ice. Don’t stand up immediately, but rather roll or belly-crawl away from the area and toward thicker ice.
If you’re fishing near open water, keep an eye on the wave action. If the wind and wave action becomes rough, get well away from the edge – waves can break through large sections of already weakened ice and can sweep the floes into open water.
By Brian Lynn from Field & Stream