Ice, ice, safety: stay safe and warm during ice fishing season

SALT LAKE CITY — In Utah, fishermen and women don’t let winter get in the way of their hobby. Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors during the coldest months of the year, but it’s important to take precautions to stay safe and warm with tips from the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources.

Dress in layers. Be sure to wear a waterproof or water-resistant outer layer, a fleece or wool mid-layer, and a warm hat and gloves. You may also want to consider wearing a pair of ice fishing bibs, which are designed to keep you warm and afloat if you fall through the ice.

Test the ice thickness before stepping on it. A general rule of thumb is to not step on ice unless it is at least 4 inches thick, but ice thickness can vary greatly from one area to another. If you see a thin spot, it’s best to find a safer place to fish. You can also drill test holes into the ice as you venture out, or use a spud bar (ice chisel) to check the thickness regularly.

“As a basic precaution, you should also purchase and always wear ice safety picks, which can help you get out of the water if you fall through the ice,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Sportfish Coordinator Trina Hedrick said. “I’d also recommend taking a throw rope with you, and it’s always a good idea to have someone else with you when ice fishing.”

Avoid common mistakes. Some of the most common mistakes that DWR conservation officers encounter are:

  • Catching and keeping too many fish over the legal limit
  • Failing to purchase a license
  • Not taking safety precautions
  • Not releasing fish quickly
  • Not removing gloves before handling fish

If you want to release the fish that you catch while ice fishing, there are a few things you can do to help decrease stress on the fish and increase survival.

Minimize air exposure time. The water that remains on sensitive areas — such as the gills or eyes — can begin to freeze and this can cause damage to a fish. So, it is best to minimize exposure time and to release the fish as quickly as possible after catching it.

Remove your gloves before handling the fish. Wearing gloves while ice fishing is typically recommended to protect an angler’s hands from freezing conditions. However, winter gloves are often made of absorptive fabric. Fish have a protective slime coat on their skin, and wearing gloves while handling the fish can remove the slime coat. This can leave fish more susceptible to various skin issues, such as fungal diseases.

Use a landing net. A landing net can help you to safely and quickly remove the fish from the water. This will help to minimize stress and increase the chances of the fish surviving the release.

Be gentle. When handling the fish, be sure to support its body and avoid touching its fins or gills. This will help to minimize stress and increase the chances of the fish surviving the release.

Find more information about where to go ice fishing in Utah on the DWR Fish Utah map.

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