As the thermometer begins to creep back up, we are sadly reminded that the hardwater season will soon be coming to an end. It always happens way too soon, like it seems most years and this one is no exception.
Add to the fact that the season started a bit later this year and we’re left yearning for a few more weeks of ice to make up for it. Late ice can also be one of the best fishing times of the year, as the fish will be coming out of their low feeding doldrums and start looking for food to prepare for their spawning times that come up in the early spring.
So, it is important to make the most of what time there is left before the ice leaves again, but it is also important to remember that, like first ice, this time of year we should take no chances with your safety out on the ice.
The ice picks that you hung around your neck on first ice, should now be coming back to that same position. Ice picks are probably the cheapest piece of safety equipment that you can have that could save your life, should you fall through.
Most are available for under $10 and are easy to use and understand how they work. There really is no excuse for at least owning and wearing a set of picks during late ice conditions.
Another good piece of equipment to be wearing are boot spikes, which many of us already wear when there’s little snow on the ice, to get a better grip and avoid falling as much as possible. But boot spikes or cleats, also offer another safety feature in that they can also help you get a better footing on the ice if you’ve falling through.
They can be used to press up against the back of the hole that you’re in if its small enough or once you’ve pulled yourself out, can help you get away from the danger faster.
But probably one of the best investments you can make safety-wise is to buy one of the float suits that many ice fishing companies now make. I run with Clam Outdoors Ice Armor Lift suit, which gives me all the features of Clam’s Ice Armor suit coupled with floatation-assist properties in the coat and bibs.
What that means, is those floatation properties will help keep my head and upper body above the water and give me a better chance to pull myself out without having to fight any additional weight other suits may have. The mesh inside the suit also helps with fast draining so that the water doesn’t soak into the suit, making me heavier.
A couple of other safety items that we should be walking out onto late ice with are a spud bar and a safety rope. Most ice fishermen have a spud bar of some kind and many of the industry’s companies make them. Others, simply make their own out of metal rods and small spades.
Regardless of what you have or run with, it should be in your sled on late ice as much as it was on first ice. It can help you find places to get onto the ice for starters, plus it can help find the best ice to walk on.
Generally speaking, if you can’t punch through the ice in 2 to 3 hits, it’s at least 4” thick. If you punch through in two, best to check another spot.
As far as a safety rope, having a length of rope that’s at least 20’ long with loops in both ends and weight of some kind to aid in throwing it will do. Some companies also make rope geared specifically towards ice fishing.
I have Clam Outdoors Safety Rope setup ready at all times on my sled on first and late ice and I make sure whoever I’m with, knows how to use it if I were to fall through, and that is probably the best safety tip you can have for late ice—never go out without a fishing buddy.
Even if you get yourself out of a bad situation, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of the woods. You still must get some place warm or call for help. A friend can help get you out of the water and then help make sure you get the medical attention you may need. So always bring someone out with you when the ice is starting to melt and “honeycomb” up.
Your life isn’t worth losing for a fish, so take precautions, use your head, and enjoy what can be some of the best fishing of the entire year on late ice.