STAY SAFE ON THE ICE

By John Kruse


I drove down to Meadow Lake today. It’s a small irrigation reservoir surrounded by orchards, near Malaga. The lake was frozen over and from the footprints left in the snow I could see two intrepid souls had ventured about 15 yards out onto the ice-covered lake before coming back to shore.  

When it comes to walking on ice covered lakes or rivers my number one rule has always been, “Never be the first one out on the ice”. I lived at a nearby lake, Three Lakes, for several years and remember one winter day venturing halfway across the lake on the ice when I heard a loud CRACK!! in the area I was walking. Needless to say, I shuffled back the way I had come and didn’t venture out onto the ice again for a couple more weeks.


There are better ways to stay safe on the ice and it’s important to do so because falling through the ice into the water can lead to hypothermia and drowning. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has these suggestions when it comes to staying safe:

  • Ice needs to be a minimum of four inches thick to walk on. Use an auger or chainsaw to measure it and make multiple holes to check as you work your way out to where you plan to fish.
  • Never fish alone.
  • Spread members of your party out to avoid too much weight on one area of ice.
  • Bring a spare set of clothes just in case, and have a game plan on how you will rescue someone if they do go in.
  • Consider purchasing ice picks- steel spikes connected by a cord and worn around the neck. In the event that someone falls in, they can be driven into the ice to offer a stable hand-hold for the person to pull themselves out. They are very inexpensive.
  • Bring floating rope to throw to someone who has fallen into the water. Get a long length, as ice near the edge of a hole can be fragile and continue to break off.
  • Some people purchase spud bars; a long piece of steel with a tapered point that can be driven into the ice to determine how thick it is without having to drill multiple holes with an auger.
  • Ice cleats are inexpensive and can save you from bumps and bruises from falling on slick ice.

Looking for more information about how thick the ice the ice should be? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has published a good guide to follow that says:

4 INCHES is the minimum safe thickness to be on the ice or to go ice fishing

5 – 6 INCHES of ice is needed to support ATVs or snowmobiles.

8 – 12 INCHES of ice is needed before you can safely drive onto the ice with a car or truck

 12 – 15 INCHES of ice is the minimum if you have a medium-sized truck

At Three Lakes it was common to see folks walking around the lake after it iced up, skating, cross country skiing, and ice fishing too. As a matter of fact, ice-fishing is a sport enjoyed by many hardy enthusiasts in North Central and Eastern Washington.   If you are wondering where to go to catch trout, perch or other species, here are a few suggestions from WDFW:

Stevens County: Lake Gillette, Lake Thomas, Coffin, Heritage, Jump Off Joe, Pierre, Waitts and Williams Lake. Hatch Lake is normally on this list but was rehabilitated this year.

Ferry County: Curlew Lake is an excellent destination for perch and there is no limit on them here. You will also like catch rainbow trout and may luck into a tiger muskie.

Chelan County: Roses Lake in Manson is good for both trout and panfish. Fish Lake west of Leavenworth is a perennial favorite for both yellow perch along with rainbow and brown trout.  

Okanogan County: This county is full of lakes to fish in the winter. Some of the more popular ice fishing destinations here include Rat Lake as well as Patterson, Bonaparte, Palmer, Sidley, and Molson Lakes. Sidley Lake hosts an ice fishing tournament every year, sponsored by the Oroville Chamber of Commerce. This year’s 18th annual Northwest Ice Fishing Festival is scheduled to take place on Saturday, January 14th. Contact the Oroville Chamber for further details about this even.

Ice fishing isn’t for everyone, but if you are bundled up and can stay warm and catch some fish while you are at it, you just may want to give it a go. And now you know how to do so in a safe manner.


John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com