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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Remind Ice Anglers And Others To Be Cautious On Ice

Recreation News

Fri Feb 27 00:00:00 MST 2009

Ice fishing turns angling into a year-round sport. But that doesn’t mean it is always safe to ice fish this time of year.

Alternating warm and cold weather can create challenging conditions for ice anglers and others winter recreating on Montana's lakes and reservoirs.

Ice on a lake is one of the least forgiving of natural features. It is important to know the body of water that you plan to fish; or to go with someone who knows that water and how ice tends to form on it and change there.

For information on what to do if you go through ice on a lake or river, go to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Web site at on the Recreation page and click Stay Safe Outdoors.
Here are some important reminders for ice anglers.

  • Wear a warm hat that covers your ears. In cold weather, 75 to 80 percent of heat loss from the body occurs from an uncovered head.
  • Wear mittens because they are warmer than gloves and reduce the chance of finger frostbite.
  • Check out ice conditions before you go. Ask other anglers or local sources and take into account changes in the weather during the past 24 hours.
  • Before you leave home, tell someone where you plan to fish and when you plan to return.
  • Go with a partner and stay separated when going to and from fishing spots in case one of you falls through the ice.
  • Carry a pair of long spikes on a heavy string, or commercial ice-fishing picks, around your neck. If you break through the ice, you can use the spikes to grip the ice and pull yourself out of the water.
  • Wear ice cleats to avoid falls.
  • Carry a rope to throw to someone who falls through the ice, go out to that person only as a last resort.
  • Blue ice is usually hard. Watch out for opaque, gray, dark or porous spots in the ice that could be weak, soft areas. Ice also tends to thin more quickly at the shorelines.
  • Watch for pressure ridges. These are areas of open water or thin ice where the ice has cracked and heaved due to expansion from freezing.
  • Test the ice ahead of you with an ice spud bar or an auger.
  • Take ice safety and rescue training and know the basics about hypothermia before venturing out on ice, especially if you plan to fish with youngsters.  
  • Don’t leave children unsupervised on the ice.  
  • Don’t forget that lakes and ponds do not freeze at the same thickness all over. 
  • Don’t forget that moving water—rivers, streams and springs—weakens ice by wearing it away from underneath.
  • Avoid ice on rivers and streams, or where a river or stream enters a lake, pond or reservoir.
  • Don’t forget most unsafe ice usually occurs early and late in the season, when the weather is warmer.