How Thick Should Ice Be For Ice Fishing?

As the weather cools down and winter hits, the time for ice fishing will start to happen. It is important for you to wait until you know that the water on the lake is frozen to a safe thickness before you even go out and try to fish. The one question we always get asked is how thick does ice have to be for you to safely walk and fish on it. There are places where you can drive cars and set trailers and houses out which require a level of thickness, that only a few places in the US get.

When ice fishing, the minimum safe thickness to walk and ice fish on is 4 inches. Any less and you run a high risk of the ice cracking and falling through. Keep in mind white ice is only half as strong, so if you do not have clear ice, double the numbers. It is important to check the ice every time that you go out, even if you are fishing multiple days in a row. See the below breakdown for the minimum thickness for fishing and other equipment.

  • Fishing: 4 inches
  • ATV’s and Snowmobiles: 7 inches
  • Cars and Small Trucks: 9-12 inches
  • Medium – Heavier Trucks: 13-16 inches

It is always your responsibility to check the thickness of ice before you go out on it, so make sure the ice is safe to walk on, and then go out a few feet and drill your check hole. Make sure you remember the difference between white and clear ice.

How To Check The Thickness

There are several different ways to check the thickness of ice depending on what tools you already have and your budget. Below are just a few different ways that you can check, and I think you probably have a few of these in your tool box already.

  • Chisel: You can buy a specific ice chisel or you can use a chisel you might have in your box to make a small hole in the ice. This may take you a little time to hammer and chisel a hole, but is the cheapest option.
  • Cordless Drill: If you dont mind using your drill, you can drill small pilot holes in the ice very quickly with this, but be careful to not set it out in the ice where it can get wet, or you will be out one drill.
  • Ice Auger: Ice augers are usually for more experienced ice fishers that go a lot because these are gas-powered augers that will drill the size hole you can fish through, but cost a bit more money, and are not really recommended for first-time ice fishers.

It is important to remember to bring a tape measure with you always, and it is not recommended to use a pick and shovel because you can cause cracking in the ice that will spread and make the ice weak. Also, remember to space your vehicles out on the ice at least around 50-60 feet and move them periodically.

What Happens If I See Or Hear Cracks In The Ice

If you see or hear ice cracking DO NOT PANIC. Slowly move yourself away from the ice hole or any visible cracks, and move to another location. It is extremely important that you do everything to make yourself safe before your gear. Ice will crack and make noise, but if you hear it continuously or see visible cracks forming, it is time to move.

Make sure if you have to pack up and move, you go to a safe distance from your previous hole so that you do not crack the ice any more than it already was. I would suggest that you go 100-150 feet from your previous hole, and dig another pilot hole to check the thickness. If you continue to hear or see cracks in the ice, it may be a good idea for you to pack it in for the day and let the ice freeze.

How Do I Make The Hole For Fishing

As stated above there is several ways to make the hole in the ice from a manual method, to several automated ways that can help you get through the ice. If you live in a place that has really cold winters, you could be trying to drill a hole through several feet of ice, so it will help you to have a drill or auger.

ice fishing hole

The most important thing about making the hole for fishing is to keep it as small as possible so that you do not end up with a giant hole that will weaken the ice. The smaller the hole, the more strength your ice will still have. If you were to use a pick and shovel to create a hole in the ice, you run the risk of causing so much weakness in the ice, you run the risk of it cracking and breaking, and can cause you, and your gear to fall through into the water and the bottom of the lake.

How Far Apart Should Ice Fishing Holes Be

Fishing holes should be a minimum of at least 6-10 feet between each hole. This helps maintain the integrity of the ice so that it will not crack, and also helps keep fishing lines from being tangled together. Spacing of the holes also depends on the thickness of the ice, so the less thick the ice is, the further you should space out your holes to keep up the strength of the ice.

How Big Should Ice Fishing Holes Be

Ice fishing holes should be a minimum of 6 inches in diameter up to a maximum of 10 inches in diameter. This keeps the ice stronger, and also gives you the ability to land bigger fish. If your hole is too small, you run the risk of not being able to pull a fish through the hole which can make you lose the fish, or have to widen the hole on the spot. Too big of a hole can lessen the integrity of the ice, and give you a better chance of falling through, so keep your holes as small as they need to be for the fish you are going after.

How Far From Shore Should I Be To Ice Fish

A safe distance to be from shore when ice fishing is 100-150 feet out. This will depend on how thick the ice is, how big the lake is, and how deep the water is. 100 feet is always a good number for a typical lake because you can be around the 30-50 foot deep mark, which is perfect for trout fishing. If you are fishing a smaller pond, you can go out as far as you can, but make sure the ice is thick enough.

frozen lake

Final Thoughts

There are some very helpful numbers packed in this article for all ice anglers to abide by. First is that you need to know that 4 inches is the least thickness you can safely fish, and goes up from there depending on what you want to bring with you to the hole.

Always remember that white ice, is half as strong as clear ice, so double your numbers if you see white ice. There are several different ways to drill a hole, but never use a pickaxe or anything that is not going to make a nice tight circle. Finally, space out your holes, and drill them to the minimum diameter for the fish you are going to try and catch, and you will have a safe time on the ice.

Related Topics

Do I Need Special Shoes For Ice Fishing

While there is no special shoe for ice fishing, it is highly recommended that you wear a shoe or boot that has heavy tread, and also waterproof. Since you will be sitting out on frozen water, it is extremely important that your feet do not get wet. Having heavy tread will make sure you can walk safely out on the ice with out slipping and falling which can cause serious injury.

Do I Need A Special Pole For Ice Fishing

Yes, there are special fishing rods designed just for ice fishing. They are very short 2-3 foot rods that can be set over the ice hole and are designed to bend, yet hold the weight of a fish when you catch it. They are designed so that you can stand right over the hole and reel in the fish without breaking your line.