The Do's and Don'ts of Winter Fishing Safety

John Malcolm
John MalcolmPublished: December 4, 2023
The Do's and Don'ts of Winter Fishing Safety

As an angler, you probably can't wait to get out on the water and cast your line, no matter what the weather's like outside. But if you're planning on doing some winter fishing, especially ice fishing, it can be dangerous if you're not prepared. 

Icy conditions, unpredictable weather, and freezing temperatures can pose a severe risk to your safety. Here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind for winter fishing safety.

Check the weather before going out.Don't go out on the water alone.
Dress in layers and have extra warm clothing.Don't underestimate the cold weather.
Pay attention to ice conditions.Don't drink alcohol while fishing.
Have proper safety gear (first aid kit, rope, etc.).Don't ignore warning signs.
Know when to call it a day.Don't forget to let someone know your plans.

What to do when fishing in the winter.

We're starting off with the do's, because these are the most important things to remember when fishing in colder weather.

Check the weather before you go out. 

Even if you're a seasoned angler, winter weather is unpredictable and can change quickly. 

Keeping an eye on the forecast is crucial for making sure you're not caught off guard by a sudden squall or temperature drop. 

Dress in layers that can be easily removed, and keep extra warm clothing, gloves, and hats close by just in case.

Pay attention to the ice conditions. 

If you're planning on fishing on a frozen lake or river, make sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight. 

A minimum of four inches of solid ice is required for walking, and at least 10 inches is needed for snowmobiles or ATVs. Use caution around cracks, slushy spots, and areas of open water, which can indicate weak or thin ice.

The best way to determine if the ice is thick enough is by drilling into it. But not just in one spot but every 50 feet or so to ensure consistency.

Minimum Ice ThicknessMaximum Load Capacity
2 inchesUnsafe for walking
4 inchesPeople, animals, ice sleds
6 inchesIce shanties
10 inchesSnow mobiles and snow machines
12 inchesCars and small pickup trucks
> 15 inchesMedium and large pickup trucks
Ice Thickness Guide for People Snowmobiles and Cars

Have the proper safety gear on hand. 

In addition to warm clothing, it's important to have other safety items with you when winter fishing.

  • Life jacket
  • Ice picks
  • First aid kit
  • Rope
  • Flashlight

Some of these things might seem like overkill, but there are plenty of hidden dangers when ice fishing. It's best to be prepared when you're out on the water. Just throw these in your ice sled and hopefully you never have to use them.

Make sure you also have a fully charged cell phone with you in case you need to call for help.

Remember, this isn't your typical sunny summer day on the lake. Upwards of 250 people die each year by falling through frozen bodies of water. 

Know when to call it a day. 

Getting caught up in the excitement of fishing is easy, but if the weather worsens or you start to feel cold or tired, it's time to head back to shore. 

Hypothermia is a real danger during winter, so recognize the symptoms (shivering, confusion, slurred speech) and take action if you or your fishing buddy show signs of it.

It's not worth pushing through. Go home, warm up, and get back out there the next day.

What NOT to do when fishing in the winter.

While those were the do's, here are some essential don'ts to keep in mind when fishing in the winter.

Don't go out on the water alone. 

It's always a good idea (and fun) to fish with a buddy, but it's even more important during the winter months. 

If one of you falls into the water or gets injured, having a partner can make all the difference in getting help quickly. 

Make a plan to stay within sight of each other and be prepared to call for help if needed.

Don't underestimate the cold weather, and think you can handle it alone.

Don't drink while out on the water. 

Alcohol may seem like a good idea to keep warm, and alcohol and fishing tend to go hand in hand, but it actually increases your risk of hypothermia. 

It also impairs judgment and reaction time, making it more difficult to respond quickly in case of an emergency. 

Save the drinks for when you're back on shore.

Don't ignore warning signs. 

If you see "Thin Ice" or "No Fishing" signs, respect them. These are there for your safety and the safety of others. 

Also, if you start to notice the ice cracking or making unusual noises, it's time to leave immediately. 

Don't take any chances when it comes to your safety.

Don't forget to let someone know where you're going. 

Before heading out for a day of winter fishing, make sure to let someone know where you'll be and when you plan on returning. Even if you're with a buddy, let someone know where you all are heading.

If something does happen, this information can help locate you quickly and potentially save your life.

Place it safe when fishing in the winter.

Winter fishing can be a fantastic experience if you take the proper precautions. 

By following these do's and don'ts, you'll be well-equipped to enjoy your day on the water safely and responsibly. 

Remember, the most important thing is your safety, and it's always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

John Malcolm

John Malcolm

Expert Angler

John is a highly skilled angler with over two decades of experience and a passion that has led him to participate in numerous tournaments, including reeling in a remarkable 9lb bass on Lake Okeechobee. His dedication to fishing and willingness to share his expertise make him a respected ambassador for the angling community, inspiring others to appreciate the sport.

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