February 2019

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. Spending more time in the elements and venturing farther from land make ice fishing safety a must.

Practicing ice fishing safety is a deep subject that should be studied and applied at all times. Another benefit of ice fishing today is the gear that can make the sport safer.

Before you load up the ATV or UTV for ice fishing, leave room for gear that might save your life. Gear up with this advice from Gary and Chase Parsons and Keith Kavajecz, hosts of “The Next Bite TV” series.    


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.”    


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, here are some tips that are essential to know and follow 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.

Spread out
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.

And a bonus …
Minimum ice thickness guidelines for clear ice suggest the following.

2" or less – Don’t go
4" – Ice fish on foot
5" – Ice fish on foot, but 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.

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