How Thick Does Ice Need to be to Ice Fish?

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Ice fishing is a popular sport in which anglers attempt to catch fish through holes drilled in the ice on frozen bodies of water. However, before heading out on the ice, it’s absolutely critical to understand how thick the ice needs to be in order to safely ice fish.

How Thick Should Ice be for Ice Fishing?

The general rule of thumb for ice fishing is that ice should be at least 4 inches thick. This thickness is considered the minimum safe thickness for a single angler walking on the ice. However, for larger groups or the use of snowmobiles or ATVs, the ice should be at least 10-12 inches thick. Techinically, you can usually operate a snowmobile or ATV on 5-inch thick ice, but we recommend a minimum of 10 inches when using these small vehicles; better safe than sorry!

How to Measure the Thickness of the Ice

how many inches thick should ice be for fishing

To measure the thickness of the ice, you can use an ice chisel or auger to drill a hole in the ice. You can then measure the ice thickness by inserting a measuring tape or ruler into the hole. Another option is to use an electronic ice thickness gauge, which uses sonar to measure the thickness of the ice.

Other Factors to Consider

There are also other things to take into account when determining if the ice is thick enough for ice fishing. These include:

  • The type of water: Different types of water freeze at different rates. For example, moving water, such as rivers, may have thinner ice than still water, such as a lake.
  • The temperature: Warmer temperatures can cause the ice to melt, making it thinner and less safe.
  • The time of year: Ice tends to be thicker later in the winter, as compared to earlier in the season.
  • The location: Ice thickness can vary greatly depending on where you are located on the frozen body of water. For example, ice near the shore may be thinner than ice in the middle of the lake.
  • Snow cover: A thick layer of snow can insulate the ice and slow down the freezing process.

It is also important to be aware of any signs of unsafe ice conditions such as slush on top of the ice, cracks or pressure ridges, and open water near the shore.

Exercise Caution when Evaluating Ice Thickness

We can’t stress this enough: If you are unsure about the thickness of the ice when ice fishing, either find a thicker location on the lake or river, or simply call it a day and head home. While few people drown or freeze to death from falling through thin ice every year, it’s still a non-zero number. We advise that you talk with the local park ranger of whichever spot you choose to ice fish, and get their input on the thickness of the ice.

As we covered, the minimum safe thickness for ice fishing is 4 inches, but 10-12 inches is favorable for larger groups or the use of snowmobiles and ATVs. Now that you know how much ice is safe for ice fishing, get out there on some thick ice and catch some fish this Winter!