Modern ice fishing is light years ahead of the sport’s Ice Ages, when anglers shivered in the frigid cold, using crude tackle while relying mostly on luck to get a bite.
Today’s anglers spend more time on the ice because of advancements in tackle and gear. That includes ATVs and UTVs that transport anglers and their gear farther and faster. Spending more time in the elements and venturing farther from land make ice fishing safety a must, and it’s never been easier with products available today.
Practicing ice fishing safety is a deep subject that should be studied and applied at all times. Even with the benefit of safety gear that can make the sport more stress free, it is important to know how to prevent as well as act when potential trouble hits.
Before you load up your TRACKER Off Road ATV or UTV for ice fishing, leave room for gear that might save your life. Need help knowing what those items might be? We gathered advice from northern pro anglers Gary and Chase Parsons and Keith Kavajecz, on the gear they rely on in the icy outdoors.
What it does: Allows you to check for unsafe ice conditions.
Why you need it: "Often, some of the best ice fishing is during early and late ice in unstable conditions,” Keith explains. “You can stop the vehicle ahead of questionable ice and walk slowly ahead, using the ice chisel to check conditions.” One hard stab of the chisel can let you know if there is thin ice or soft ice. If either is found, you can backtrack your path and find an alternate route.
What it does: You get the same protection from a personal flotation device as those worn in a boat.
Why you need it: “As a precaution—and especially when fishing alone—you need the same protection from drowning as you get in a boat,” Keith says. “Inflatable PFDs are comfortable and easily fit over bulky ice fishing clothing.”
Advancements in all-wheel drive, full-time four-wheel drive, and on-demand four-wheel drive all add to the cost of an ATV, but the overall value as well. You may be surprised at just where you can take a two-wheel drive ATV, but when it comes to deep mud, snow, and other slippery conditions, 4WD can become very important.
New advancements in electronic power steering can really make a big difference to the capability of your ATV. In tight places where your speed is negligible, power steering shines. You can imagine the benefits of the power steering option by pretending you're on a hog hunt. Feral hogs are a non-game species with a year-round season and no bag limit in some places. When you have a 100-pound pig on your front rack and a 100-pound pig on the back, it can be difficult to steer, to say the least. If you have electronic power steering, in fact, the ride is so smooth you cannot tell there is any weight on the front rack. Maneuverability is not lost at all. A manual steering vehicle would require way more effort to control under the same circumstances.
An ATV can become your biggest ally for setting up and maintaining your hunting property. From hauling stands to pop-up ground blinds and game cameras, your entire experience is so much simpler with an ATV. Hills, creeks, and drainages are no match for the ATV. For hunters who are accustomed to hauling these items on foot, the ATV can be a life changer. But it is in game retrieval that the ATV truly excels. Being able to drive right up to your deer and load him on the back rack makes an ATV worth its weight in gold and certainly worth the price.
What it does: Attaches to an ATV sled or UTV to be used in an emergency when the vehicle breaks through the ice.
Why you need it: “If you break through the ice, a quick grab of the ripcord deploys the raft connected to your machine,” Gary notes. “The raft keeps it from sinking while giving you a safe place to climb upon.”
What it does: Allows you to float if you fall through the ice.
Why you need it: This suit is on the must-have list of all three of our experts. “You get a two-for-one kind of deal,” Gary explains. “The suit is warm and provides insulation and flotation to prevent drowning.”
What it does: Allows you to climb out of a hole in the ice if you fall through.
Why you need it: “These are small in size but big on safety—especially if you are fishing alone,” Chase says. “They attach to a lanyard so you can wear them around your neck for quick access.”
What it is: A pair of ATV snow tire chains that come in a storage case for transport.
What it does: The chains have five V-shaped bars per row to dig into the snow and ice for full traction.
Why you need it: “First for convenience, of course, but the traction can come in handy if encountering snow on the ice when far away from land,” Chase says.
What it is: Spikes designed to be worn around boots and flexible footwear.
What it does: Provides improved footing when walking on the ice.
Why you need it: Our experts like these to prevent falling—and the related injuries—when moving between holes at a given fishing spot.
Find most of the above gear at Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Centers, where you will also find a complete lineup of ATVs and UTVs for all your ice fishing needs.
In addition to the right gear, here are 5 essential tips to know when fishing on the ice.
BRING A FRIEND
Never fish alone. Also make sure family and friends know where you intend to go and your expected time back off the ice.
Never drill too many holes in the same place. The more holes, the less stability there is on the ice.
AVOID SNOW-COVERED ICE
The insulating properties prevent cold air from keeping the ice below freezing temperatures.
AVOID MOVING WATER
Ice forming over moving water is weaker.
ASK A LOCAL
Before heading out check with the local bait shop for thickness reports provided by other anglers.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Minimum ice thickness guidelines for clear ice suggest the following.
2" or less – Don’t go
4" – Ice fish on foot
5"-6” – Ice fish on foot, and safe for ATV
8"-12" – Safe to drive a car
12"-15" – Safe to drive a truck
The above guidelines are provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.