Ice, ice, baby!

The Road Less Travelled

By TERRI WINDOVER, Connect Columnist

A lone fisherman testing ice thickness on Lesser Slave Lake in February 2015. PHOTO: TERRI WINDOVER, Connect Weekly

A lone fisherman testing ice thickness on Lesser Slave Lake in February 2015. PHOTO: TERRI WINDOVER, Connect Weekly

I use to hate winter. I rarely went outside once the snow fell and would sit on my couch drinking, wine staring morosely out the window and praying for an early spring. Then, I met an outdoors man seven years ago who changed my views completely. I now curse the too-warm-winters with lack of snow like we have experienced this year.

I have learned to embrace of all things – ice fishing. (It also helps that I pulled a monster pike out of Lesser Slave Lake years ago.) I have no problem walking on frozen ice, but I’ve never become truly comfortable with driving a 4500 pound, fully loaded, truck out on it. I put the window down, take off my seat belt and run through the scenario a dozen times on the way out. (If there’s one way I do not want to go out, it’s drowning in cold water. No. Just no.)

Unlike our teenage years, where we simply feel invincible and rarely think things through as adults, we are expected to make smarter decisions. And yet, on average four or five ice fishing deaths occur in North America every winter. Most deaths while ice fishing are not caused by drowning, but by hypothermia. After you fall in, you’ll only have a few minutes to get yourself out before your body becomes too stiff and affected by cold water temperatures to move. So, the obvious safe thing to do is to not fall through in the first place.


Ice colour can say a lot. Watch for gray, dark, or porous ice spots, which usually means soft ice. Slush is a danger sign. It indicates that ice is no longer freezing from the bottom and indicates weak or deteriorated ice. As ice ages, the bond between the crystals decays, making it weaker even if melting has not occurred. New ice is usually stronger than old ice. In regards to our variety of river systems here, take particular caution, as river ice is usually 15% weaker, than pond or lake ice. Hard, blue-coloured ice is usually a sign of strong, thick ice.


Always take along more clothing than what you think you’ll need. It’s better to shed layers, than suffer frostbite or hypothermia. You will be out in the open exposed to winds at times. Your outer layer should be wind and waterproof, followed by several layers of breathable fabrics you can remove. I personally bought a new pop up hut last year. It was the best investment ever. Up and down in a few minutes and super easy to use. If using a heater make sure you open the vents to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. (You want to live to eat those fish!)

Here are the recommended guidelines for being on the ice. You still have an obligation to use caution and common sense when travelling on ice:

MEASURE the ice – always test ice conditions & thickness. Do not walk on ice that is less than four inches thick, and do not drive on ice that is less than 12 inches thick.

Watch out for ice near the entrances of streams. Do not drive fast, or follow closely behind another vehicle. Move your vehicle regularly throughout the day as even strong ice can weaken under the weight.

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– Connect Weekly –