Know the weather, water
The urge to get on the ice right now may be overwhelming. However, a day of risky fishing and the potential for a disaster is far outweighed by a winter full of good, safe ice fishing.
Important factors in good ice formation include:
Steady sub-freezing temperatures; the colder it is for a longer period of time results in a better freeze up of lake waters.
Calm days and nights; the less the wind blows, the faster and more solid ice freezes.
Water type; if the lake you fish on or are looking to walk on is high in salinity, or is a large body of water or is spring-fed, it will freeze at a slower rate than that of a smaller clearer lake.
Heavy snows; if there has been a lot of precipitation in the form of snow (or worse, rain) the formation of good ice is hindered. Pay attention to the amount and type of accumulations that have occurred recently.
Vegetation; shoreline plants result in thinner ice. Cattail stands and tree roots near the water’s edge can weaken ice and slow formation. Avoid these areas when possible.
Location-specific factors; if there are springs, feeder creeks or aquifers that put water into the lake, make sure you know where those areas are to avoid weak ice. The more moving water in a location, the less solid the ice will be. Pay close attention to the weather, and talk to local tackle shops and fishing guides about ice formation, as they are usually the first to know.
One small step
When venturing out on to a recently frozen body of water there are some safety precautions that can help you be prepared for the worst. Bringing several important tools can assure that in the event of ice breakage and submersion, one can avoid hypothermia and survive.
The buddy system; the best idea is to NEVER venture on the ice alone. The buddy system virtually assures that another person will be along with you to help in case of a fall-in or broken ice.
Life jackets; they aren’t just for summer anymore. By wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) underneath a coat or overalls, personal buoyancy is increased, keeping the head and shoulders above water. This is especially important as cold water shocks the system, and when a person hits such cold water, a loss of breath often occurs, with less air in the lungs, the body is less apt to float. The added buoyancy of a PFD also aids in escape.
Spud bar; a long metal, or metal tipped wood pole can be used to probe unsure areas of ice, and can also be used as a walking stick when traveling on slick areas as well.; There are many types of safety spikes, designed to give traction to an ice adventurer, should he break through. Pairs can be bought at stores such as Fleet Farm or Scheels. However, the best safety spikes can be made of wooden dowels and nails at home. By putting a nail into one-inch diameter dowels that fit into your hands, you have created a floating tool that could very well save your life. Connect the two dowels with eye-hooks and a durable cord to have them comfortably hang around your neck to be used at a moment’s notice.