Ice fishing guidelines for anglers

RBC | ​There probably is no such thing as “safe” ice, but there are some guidelines anglers should consider. In Colorado, ice conditions can vary from lake to lake. Along the Front Range, it is especially important that anglers check ice conditions before heading out because of the region’s notoriously variable weather conditions. Many of the most popular lakes are within Colorado State Parks​ and anglers should check with the specific park staff about ice thickness before going out.

Before going onto a frozen lake, pond or river, it’s important to take safety precautions to reduce the risk of falling through the ice. Remember you take a risk any time you go onto the ice. Anglers should always decide for themselves if it is safe to go out and walk on or drive a snowmobile on ice.

Knowing how to judge ice conditions will help you make more informed decisions while enjoying your outing. Ice thickness depends on several factors with the first and most obvious factor being location. The type of lake also affects ice thickness; a shallow lake will freeze faster than a deep lake. Look for clear blue ice. New ice is stronger than old ice. Ice thickness is not consistent. Beware of ice around partially submerged objects such as trees, brush, embankments or structures. Ice will not form as quickly where water is shallow or where objects may absorb sunlight.

When ice fishing, it is always a good idea to drill test holes or use an ice chisel as you venture onto a lake to help judge the thickness and character of the ice. These “Test” holes should be at no more than 30 foot intervals.

You should also have a safety kit specific to ice fishing whenever you go. The items on this list will help prevent someone or something from falling through the ice. If you or someone else should fall through the ice, know how to use these tools to perform a self-rescue or assist in a rescue​. The safety kit list is at the beginning of each rescue guide. See the rules of thumb for ice in the graphic on the left.

​Other considerations for a safe trip include:

  • The use of crampons, or cleats, for walking on ice is a good idea in Colorado. With the state’s powdery snow and wind, there is often no snow cover on ice. Blowing wind and snow actually polish ice to a glassy, slippery surface.
  • Attaching a long cord to sleds should make them easier to pull, and if someone falls through the ice, anglers can push their sled to them while holding onto the line.
  • Anglers should carry two picks—or spikes protruding from wooden hand holds—that will float and are securely connected together with a piece nylon cord 24 to 30 inches in length. These picks should be carried allowing for quick and easy access in case anglers need to pull their way out if they fall through the ice.
  • Ice fishermen should carry a portable flotation cushion. The cushion will add to their seating comfort and give them something to throw should someone fall through ice.
  • Anglers should keep their augers covered because the blades are sharp, and can easily cut them, their children or their dogs.
  • Ice fishermen should spray vegetable oil on their auger and snowshoes. That way, snow won’t stick and anglers won’t cut themselves cleaning off the snow.
  • Beware of ice covered with snow. Snow acts much like a blanket, insulating thin ice and preventing the formation of clear, blue ice. Snow can also hide cracked, weak and open water. Daily changes in temperature cause ice to expand and contract, creating cracks and possibly pressure ridges which can affect ice strength. Extreme caution should be exercised when approaching a pressure ridge. Ice may be unstable up to 20 feet from the ridge itself. Stay away from cracks, pressure ridges, slushy or darker areas that signify thinner ice.

Traveling on a snowmobile or ATV early or late in the season is an accident waiting to happen. Do not drive across ice at night or when it is snowing. You can easily become disoriented and end up in areas of the lake you never intended to be.

Follow these ice safety tips to prevent a fatal mistake:

❆ Be aware of ice and weather conditions by checking online or calling ahead. Educate yourself on proper tools and techniques for checking ice conditions. Looks can be deceiving! Always test the ice rather than relying on its appearance

❆ The buddy-system is best on the ice so try not to go alone. Let someone know your plan and where you’re going. If someone is in need of rescue, call 911 for help – attempting a rescue could cause you to also fall through the ice.

❆ Always wear a life jacket or float coat. Wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) over winter clothing. Life jackets provide excellent flotation and protection from the cold.

❆ Assemble personal safety items, such as ice picks and a whistle, which should be attached to you while on the ice. Other essential equipment includes a rope or throw bag and a cell phone. Keep your cell phone in a secure pocket or waterproof pouch to make it more accessible if calling for help.

❆ Wait to enjoy alcoholic beverages. Alcohol in your system increases the likelihood of hypothermia and poor choices. Stay hydrated with water and warm liquids.

❆ Keep pets on a leash at all times. Never allow your pet to run out onto the ice and do not walk your pet near a frozen lake or pond without a leash. If your dog falls through the ice, do not attempt a rescue. Call for help.

❆ Remember: Reach-Throw-Go. If someone falls through the ice and you can’t reach the person from shore, throw a flotation device or rope. If you still can’t quickly help the person, go or call for help.

If you do fall through the ice, try to remember these tips:

❆ Try to Stay Calm. This will help you to conserve as much energy as possible.

❆ Act slowly and deliberately to conserve heat. Expect a progressive decrease in your strength and ability to move. Make the harder maneuvers at the beginning, while you can.

❆ Do not try to swim. Swimming will cause your body to lose heat much faster and will use up energy than if you stay as still as possible.

❆ Try to get your arms onto the ice. Kick your feet as hard as you can to help lift you onto the ice, use your ice picks to grab onto the ice and then roll to safety.

❆ If you can’t get out by yourself, try to keep your upper body above water to conserve body heat. Use your whistle or yell to alert others that you need help.

PRESS RELEASE | Special to the Herald Times

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