Don’t rely on second-hand info
It’s been a weird year for ice fishing in Manitoba, especially in the Lake Winnipeg Watershed. Until recently, the Red River was holding way more water than usual, resulting in unpredictable and unsafe ice conditions. Many trucks went through Lake Winnipeg’s ice in December, leading to a lot of people questioning ice safety.
The bottom line is this: if you don’t know how thick the ice is, go find out!
When you’re fishing a body of water you haven’t seen yet, start by drilling test holes near shore. Repeat every 20-50 metres until you’re at your desired fishing spot. If it’s thick in one area, that doesn’t mean it’s consistent!
Walk-on ice thickness
Consistent, clear ice that’s four inches thick is safe for walking. If that seems thin to you, hold off until the ice is six inches thick. In early and late ice, it’s important to prioritize your safety. Invest in ice picks and if you have the cash, a float suit. I’ve comfortably fished on four inches of ice, but I’m always extremely cautious.
Sled-on ice thickness
Five to six inches of ice is safe for snowmobiles. I’d suggest waiting until there’s at least six consistent inches of ice. You’ll also want to make sure there’s a decent amount of snow on the ice for traction and to keep your engine cool. If you’re sledding on Manitoba lakes before the Snowman trails are up, use your judgement.
Drive-on ice thickness
This is where people get in the most trouble. eight to 12 inches of new, clear ice is safe for a small car, and 12 inches+ is safe for trucks. I drive a Toyota Camry, and I always wait until there’s 12 inches. Remember, just because someone on Ice Fishing Manitoba told you the ice is 12 inches thick is no guarantee. Be responsible and confirm it for yourself. Also remember that areas near pressure ridges can vary wildly in thickness, and gaps may open up unexpectedly throughout the day.
If you’re driving on the ice, keep your windows open and seatbelts off. If the unthinkable happens, your chances of escaping will be much better. If a vehicle with closed windows becomes fully submerged, the water pressure will prevent the doors from opening.
Some novice anglers get scared when the ice begins to boom around them. Chill! This sound is actually the result of new ice forming. It’s a natural and healthy sign that the lake is making ice. High-pitched pops and cracking sounds on the other hand, mean you should be careful.
Going through? Know what to do:
I’m not the expert to train you on how to survive a fall through the ice, but there are many online resources you can turn to.
Get in the habit of testing ice for yourself, and you likely won’t get into any trouble. When in doubt, walk it out!