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Ice fishing safety tips

Posted February 12, 2014 in Advice Column

During the winter months, a frozen lake can be the center of many outdoor activities, including ice hockey, dog sledding and ice skating. But another winter pastime in the U.S. and Canada is ice fishing. While this favorite winter sport can be fun, it can also be dangerous. In some cases, serious injury or death has occurred due to unsafe ice fishing practices. So if you’re angling to stay safe on any icy lake or river, let’s start out by tackling some of the root causes of unsafe ice fishing.

Dangers of ce fishing
Ice fishing injuries and fatalities are usually the result of hypothermia (a condition that dramatically lowers the body’s temperature, causing severe metabolic dysfunction) or vehicle-related accidents. Dangers include:
•    Not dressing properly. Keeping your head, hands and feet warm and dry is essential to prevent hypothermia.
•    Not packing adequate equipment. Death from drowning can occur if you’re not wearing a life jacket. Packing the right equipment, such as picks and rope can help you beat the odds.
•    Excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol can slow your reflexes and reaction time, which can be risky in the event of an emergency and also increases your chances of getting hypothermia; alcohol constricts blood vessels and lowers body temperature.
•    Falling through thin ice. Ice doesn’t freeze evenly on the surface of a lake or river. Thin patches can’t always be detected by sight alone and cannot sustain the weight of a human, let alone a snowmobile, ATV or truck.

Safety tips
• Bring a friend. Don’t fish alone. Make sure friends and family know where you’re fishing and when you plan to return home.
•    Spread out. Do not drill too many holes in one place. The more holes, the less stable the ice surface.
•    Don’t fish near plants. Plants produce heat as they decay. So watch your step in marshy areas.
•    Wear a life jacket. Life vests have excellent flotation properties in case you fall into the water.
•    Bring a pair of ice picks or screwdrivers. Keep them in your jacket in case you fall into the water and have to pull yourself out. Use tools with wooden handles so they won’t sink.
•    Pack a rope. It’s easier to pull someone out of the water with a rope than by the arms.
•    Avoid snow-covered ice. Snow has insulating properties, which prevents cold air from keeping the ice at freezing temperatures.
•    Pack a first aid kit and matches. Keep these items in a dry and secure place so they will be usable in case of emergency.
•    Park your vehicle on dry land. Refrain from parking your vehicle on the ice. Added weight could cause the ice around you to break.

Information provided by Mitch Lunn, State Farm Insurance, 24 S. 18th St., Fort Dodge, 515-955-7181,

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