Ontario Ice Fishing Survival Tips and Recommendations

Print E-mail












With the ice fishing season gearing up in Ontario many are heading out onto the hard water for the first time. For those in Southern Ontario a warm Chinook (and we're not talking fish here) during the first week of January 2008 has left most of the lakes, rivers and streams in hazardous conditions. Paying close attention to the weather conditions for the month of January we can see that proper ice will not form in Southern Ontario for at least another 2 weeks bringing us to the third week of the new year. Many anglers have already prepared their huts and equipment and some have ventured out onto the thin ice daring the conditions. Ice conditions will vary in each and every lake in the province. If you are unsure of the thickness then stay off the ice. Always check with local operators and outfitters of the conditions and observe changes in weather religiously.

Many lakes in the Northern part of the province are now in full swing with much colder temperatures than in the south. With this in mind it is always best to err on the side of caution on any frozen water body and exercise caution at all times.

With a 2 week break imminent due to the unseasonably warm weather now is a great time to review some tips on hard water survival, ice thinkness and just plain old common sense.

Ice Fishing Survival Essentials


  • Always tell a family member, friend, operator where you are going, when, duration and your expected time of return. If you are not back by a certain time that person should call for help. Carry a cell phone with you. If you do modify your time on the ice then call to let them know. Always make sure your phone battery is fully charged before venturing out as colder temperatures will drain a battery much faster than warmer temperatures.
  • Invest in a compass or a GPS. With the possibility of fog, snow and whiteout conditions it is essential that you are able to get your bearings on any body of water. Many an angler has wandered in circles in a storm looking for the shoreline and many over the years have not returned.
  • Leave your car or truck on the shore. Even if the ice is 16-20 inches think you can still break through in many spots that are weak and thin ice when snow covered can be almost impossible to predict.
  • If you are walking onto the ice ensure there is at least 4 inches of clear ice. Clear ice means that it is solid. White ice means that the ice is not frozen as hard or consistent as clear ice. Stay far away from any open water or spider holes. Carry an ice chisel to periodically check the thickness of the ice in your area.
  • Never ice fish alone.  Always fish with a buddy. Carry a length of floatable rope with you in case you do manage to fall through the ice. Always wear a lifejacket, PFD or floatable survival suit. If you have fallen through the ice it is essential to get out as quick as possible before hypothermia sets in.
  • Always have spikes or something that will penetrate the ice to pull yourself out if you do fall through and your buddy can't assist you.
  • If you are venturing out during the night hours carry an emergency kit consisting of flares, flashlight, light sticks, blanket, matches or lighter and a portable heating source such as a camp stove.
  • Do not consume alcoholic beverages. Alcohol seriously impairs your judgement and in extreme weather conditions speeds up dehydration.

Safe Ice Fishing Thickness

4 inches or less - Stay Home. Do not go out on the ice. Do not be a guinea pig testing on thin ice just to get a fish. Don't be a statistic.

4 to 6 inches - Ensure it is clear ice. Always travel in single lines on the ice and test the ice often with a chisel in upcoming areas. Use extreme caution if the ice is heavily snow covered as it can hide weak spots.

6 to 20 inches - Snowmobiles, ATV's are safe to travel. Now is the time to setup your hut if you are dragging one with a sled to a location with this amount of ice. Maintain a constant vigil on the difference in ice colour and depth when venturing out and check snow covered areas before traversing them.

10-16 inches - This ice thickness can support the weight of a small car or truck. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources recommends that you avoid riving any vehicle on the ice at all times during the ice fishing season.

16 inches and more - Good for medium sized cars and trucks. As always, use the MNR's recommendations and avoid driving any vehicle on the ice when possible.

Quite different from the soft water season Ontario ice fishing provides its own unique conditions and challenges. Using the tips listed above and a little common sense will ensure that you have a safe outing on the ice each and every time.


 This article was written by the
contributing staff of OFT and its
group of amateur and pro Ontario anglers.

Copyright 2007. Ontario Fish Trips .

< Prev   Next >