ICE TYPES: Bluish or clear ice is best, while that honeycombed stuff is sketchy. Darkish snow and ice may also indicate weak spots. Shoreline areas that crack and melt indicate ice further offshore might be compromised. Test that ice as you move around, and fish through a hole in it.
WEATHER PATTERNS: Keep track of what those girls on the Weather Channel have to say about warming or freezing trends in the area you live or travel. Warm spells, even in winter, erode ice rapidly. Often when the surface refreezes, poor ice results. Avoid thaws. Wind wears away at ice too.
AVOID MOVING WATER: You laugh, but even a rock-solid roof of lake ice that’s a foot thick is compromised near spring holes, shoreline stream tributaries, and the like. Check out maps before you walk out on the ice.
SMALLER IS SURER: Small ponds often freeze faster than big expansive lakes. Ice-covered rivers, which by nature involve moving water, should be avoided.
WATER LEVELS CHANGE: Some waters are regulated where dams are undergoing winter repairs. Avoid these places where workers control levels that rise and fall, as air pockets form under ice and create unsafe support surfaces.
AVOID STRUCTURE: Open-water anglers tend to fish spring and summer structure, as fish hold there, but ice fishing near it is risky. Ice near underwater structure like fallen trees and other debris, including that near bridges, should be avoided as it doesn’t always form strong bonds.
OOPS, I’M GOING DOWN: Stay calm. You’ve busted through the ice, and panic rises. Your first impulse will be to climb out. Don’t try. Instead, lie back with both arms on the broken ice, and kick your way up onto stronger ice, then roll away to firmer stuff. Once you make it to shore where you’ve parked your ATV, that hot chocolate by the fire with a blanket is only a four-wheeler ride away.
FAILURE TO PREPARE: You may never go through the ice, but be ready anyway. Carry an ice pick in a jacket pocket. Wear clothing that provides floatation. Light sticks can help people find you if you’re lost out on the ice. Stash that and other supplies such as a blanket, compass, GPS, snacks, hot drinks, and a first-aid kit in a backpack. This also includes wearing safety gear such as over-the-ankle boots, long pants and sleeves, gloves, eye protection, and of course a helmet as you travel home on four wheels once you’re done fishing.
DON’T GO IT ALONE: Fish the ice with a buddy or two, but avoid gathering in big groups when ice thickness is questionable.
Enjoying winter with your Yamaha off-road vehicle by traveling to the ice you’ll fish, and toting angling gear home again, is a great thing. Stay safe, and enjoy it.