The simple answer is ice is never 100% safe, there are too many variables to get into. You’re not here to read about those, you want to know when the ice is safe to walk on.
Sure you can always follow the lead of someone else that’s already been out there, surely they checked the ice properly before venturing out. The problem is you don’t know that for sure. The only way to know for sure is to check the ice yourself.
Early ice is when you need to be very careful, you know when the lake first locks up and there are a few single digit days and nights in a row with little wind. Some of the best fishing of the ice season happens right at first ice so you need to get out there, safely.
The Minnesota DNR has this ice safety image that is a good rule to follow.
There are 3 main items you’ll need to make sure you’re not going to take a cold dip through the ice.
- Ice spud or Ice Chisel
- Ice Safety Picks
- Inflatable Vest/PFD
A couple other items you want to have are
- Ice Cleats for your boots
- A long rope
- Hand auger
Checking The Ice
When it’s this early in the season and you’re walking on ice that may only be 4″ thick you want to have the least amount of gear as possible. A good hand auger is all that’s really needed. If possible it’s best to have a buddy with you as well.
Leave all of your gear on shore or in the truck/car. Take only your ice spud/chisel, picks and PFD and check the ice right at the shore. If you’re chopping through ice in the first few tries the ice is too thin. If you’re not through the ice step out about 5′ further and check again. This time go all the way through until you hit water. Check with your index finger and see how thick the ice is. If it’s thicker than the length of your index finger or roughly 4″ or more move out another 5′ and check again.
If the ice is consistently thicker than 4″ once you’re out about 20-25 yards you can start checking less often but make sure to use your best judgement. Listen for any cracking when you take those steps out past your last hole you chiseled open.
Always make sure to stay clear of any ice that looks questionable. If you’re walking out on nice clear ice and you come to a spot that is cloudy or slushy looking make sure to stay away from those areas.
Use your best judgement, bring a friend and your safety gear and you should have no problems finding safe ice to walk on.
Check out the post about finding early ice crappies! https://www.mnfishingblog.com/2019/12/10/finding-crappies-in-early-winter/
Here is a link to the MN DNR Ice In Dates Map