Ice Fishing Safety Enhanced by Solid Steel

Make no mistake: falling through unsafe ice into freezing water is a life or death situation!

ice fishing safety
ice fishing safety
A spud bar. Photo: Frabill

We all know Indiana winter weather can be a crap shoot. It all depends on the whim of Mother Nature. Some year’s snow and bitter temperatures were negligible. Not this winter! The prolonged Arctic blast saw to that, but ice fishing safety is still paramount!

There are some, like me, who enjoy when winter’s firm grip stills the waters of area lakes, creating a solid covering. Safe ice conditions
provide adventurous anglers the opportunity to feel their line being pulled tight by the weight of a good fish. It looks like we are in for a long run and I’m betting more anglers will hit the ice than in years past.

“It sure beats sitting at home,” a friend said as he threw a flopping
bluegill on the snow covered ice. The temperature hovered around five
degrees. We agreed it would be hard lasting the winter months without
feeling that familiar tug on the end of your line. It’s also fun feeling
the snow crunching under your boots as you walk over the water’s hard
surface, imagining hungry bluegills, crappies and walleyes lurking right
under your feet. And when you do encounter success, few things please
the palate like fresh panfish hoisted from icy cold waters.

Make no mistake: falling through unsafe ice into freezing water is a
life or death situation. It was just a few weeks back when an angler
lost his life on a northern Indiana lake. It was a shock felt through
the ice fishing circle.

Over the past several weeks I have been fortunate in sharing fellowship
with a good number of hard water anglers. Old friendships were
reaffirmed and new ones created. “You know, people always talk about ice
fishing safety, but no one ever mentions that,” said Jason Roberts, as
he watched me place the long, steel rod back into my sled. He was
referring to my ice spud.

Ice fishing safety is paramount when venturing on frozen surfaces. People tout the
importance of wearing life jackets, flotation suits and draping safety
spikes around your neck. No doubt these are essential items everyone
should have. But think about it, they only come in handy after you’ve
taken the plunge into freezing water. I don’t know about you, but that’s
a situation I don’t ever want to find myself in – ever!

Another safety measure is to check ice thickness by using your auger to
punch test holes as you venture out, but there are a couple concerns
with this. First, it takes time and requires a lot more effort. And who
is willing to do that every several yards. Second, you are standing over
the hole while you drill, so you’re possibly already over weak ice.

So what item can help you avoid that predicament? About 25 pounds of
solid steel! That’s right, a heavy, steel rod about five feet in length
with a handle at one end and a sharp, chisel point on the other, called
an ice spud.Originally developed to carve out holes in frozen surfaces,
experienced ice fishermen recognize them as an important safety tool.
“I’ve never thought of that,” said outdoor radio host Bryan Poynter, as
we discussed ice fishing safety during his broadcast. “But it makes
great sense.” With an ice spud you are using it much like a walking
stick and constantly checking thickness several feet in front of you
with every step.

They are sometimes referred to as ice chisels, ice spuds or more
commonly, spud bars and can be invaluable, especially during early and
late season. They can be purchased or made in your shop, but regardless,
they should occupy a place in your arsenal of hard water equipment.

As mentioned previously, it was several weeks back when some friends and
I hit two different lakes in one day. These bodies of water were only
three miles apart. Ice thickness varied dramatically with one lake
covered by only three inches of ice and another pushing seven inches.

Conditions can also vary drastically on the same lake. On one outing
several of us stood on safe, clear ice when 50 yards in front of us open
water rippled, stirred by a stiff north breeze. The next day the area of
open water skimmed over and a light layer of snow camouflaged it,
creating a dangerous situation.

When venturing out on any frozen body of water it’s wise to take the
spud bar and strike the ice soundly three to four feet in front of you
with every step. My homemade spud will penetrate roughly two inches of
ice, or more, with one sharp blow, three to four inches with two good
whacks. If the chisel goes through with one strike, I’ll immediately
back off. There is no doubt this practice has kept me from going through
several times when my ambition caused me to jump the gun in past seasons.

There is no reason to hibernate inside until the sun’s rays again turn
warm. It’s not the latest cold snap or years of knowledge that makes an
ice fisherman. It’s simpler than that.All it really requires is desire,
a dose of common sense and attention to safety.

If you decide to give hard water angling a shot, don’t be afraid to ask
an experienced ice fisherman to take you along. Most are more than eager
to share the warmth and friendship only safe ice and winter can provide.


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John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.


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