coming back alive
A Cool Activity

Ice Fishing is a popular activity to spend the chilly winter days in North America.

However, in the wrong conditions, a fun sport can turn into a deadly tragedy. Ice Fishing accidents are preventable with the right knowledge and a little common sense.

Don't become another statistic, be safe and have fun!

ice fishing
If the ice is cracked, don't fish on it!
Facts to Think About
  • According to The Lifesaving Society, Canada's Lifeguarding Experts, there were 22 ice-related deaths in Ontario in 1998, four of them related to ice fishing
  • On average four or five ice fishing deaths occur in North America every winter, usually the result of a combination of thin ice, too much booze and not enough brains.

  • River ice is usually 15% weaker than pond or lake ice. New ice is usually stronger than old ice. As ice ages, the bond between the crystals decays, making it weaker even if melting has not occurred.

  • Slush is a danger sign. It indicates that ice is no longer freezing from the bottom and indicates weak or deteriorated ice.

  • Ice Thickness:

    • 4" Walking on the ice and drilling a hole

    • 6" Snowmobile

    • 8"-12" Driving a car

No matter how badly you want to catch that fish, ice safety comes first
Ice Fishing Safety Tips

Ice fishermen wait for weeks for the first ice of the season, eager to get their line in the hole.

Even lifetime experts know though, that ice fishing safety must come first. Nature can be brutal and the delicate nature of ice is its own concern.

You can snag the biggest catch and stay safe by brushing up on your ice fishing safety before hitting the ice!



Always communicate your fishing plans with someone. Let them know where you're going and when you're expected to return.

If you own a cell phone, CB, or other communications device, take it with you! You don't have to take business calls on your day off, but should the worst happen, you'll be glad you had a way to get in touch with authorities and medical personal.


Always take along more clothing than what you think you'll need. It's better to shed layers than suffer frostbite or hypothermia.

Your outer layer should be wind and waterproof, followed by several layers of breathable fabrics you can remove, if necessary.

Don't forget the boots, hats, or mitts, either. You lose the most heat from the head area. Keep it covered and the rest of you will feel warmer.


Wear a life vest or take along a float coat. Both provide maximum flotation. Float coats will also protect you from hypothermia.


Alcoholic beverages increase the odds for hypothermia, slowed reactions, and poor judgment calls.

If you want to flip back a few cold ones with the boys (or girls), do it after your outing when you're back on solid ground.


According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), "ice is never safe" because "it can be a foot thick in one area on a lake, and it can be one inch thick just a few yards away."

Of course, every diehard already knows the hazards of ice just as every race car driver is aware of the perils of speed. That being said, there are ways to stay safe on the ice while fishing.

Follow these guidelines:


Before gearing up, wait to hit the ice until there is a minimum of 4-inches of solid ice.

If you are unable to gauge ice thickness on your own, contact your local DNR, bait shop, or fishing club and inquire about current ice conditions.


Always hit the ice with a friend. This gives you and he/she a way out, should disaster strike.


Keep at least 6-feet between yourself and your fishing buddy as you make your way across the ice. Less thick areas of ice may be passable by one, but not by two.


Many lakes have aeration systems that provide an open area of water so that fish receive enough oxygen. Aerated areas are usually marked with diamond shaped thin ice signs or are fenced off.

Stay clear of these areas. Ice is often weak and thin as many as 12-feet beyond these points.


According to the Michigan DNR, ice colour can say a lot. Watch for gray, dark, or porous ice spots, which usually indicate soft ice. "Stale" or "spoiled" ice is slushy and usually thin. Hard, blue coloured ice is usually indicative of strong, thick ice.


If the worst happens and you fall in, you'll need something sharp to dig into the slippery ice to pull yourself to safety.

Experienced fishermen carry a pair of picks, ice claws, bear claws, large nails, or even screwdrivers tied together.

Whatever you choose, make sure it's light enough not to sink to the bottom if it hits the water, too.

Keep the tools in a jacket pocket or tied to your mitts for easy access.

Keeping a long rope in your vehicle or shack can also protect against tragedy.



If you're getting there by ATV, you'll need no less than 5-inches of clear ice to do it safely. Cars and light trucks require 10-12-inches in ice thickness, and snowmobiles need 6-inches.

If you're leaving your car on the ice, especially at the beginning or end of the season, move it often. Parking heavy vehicles in one place over a long period of time weakens the ice. Also, never park near cracks or pressure ridges.


Should the ice begin to crack or your partner slips into a hole, know what to do.




Walk away from the crack in the direction you came from. Move to shore as quickly as possible.


Move to the edge of the ice where you fell in (that's where the ice is strongest) and use a sharp object to pull yourself from the water.

Most deaths while ice fishing are not caused by drowning, but rather, 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.

Once out, roll at least 6-feet from the hole before you attempt to stand.


Never run toward them. You won't be any help if you're both in the hole.

Lie on your stomach, extend a branch, pole, your auger, belt, jacket rope, ladder or line to the victim, and then pull them to safety.

ice fishing
Make sure there is enough ice beneath you to carry your family.


Ice Fishing: A Heartbreaking Story

A week before he died, Pierre Comeau, a 46-year-old paraplegic, was getting his life back in order after a painful breakup of a relationship.

He was getting ready to start a course in small arms repair, and had moved into a beautiful hillside cabin near Maniwaki where the course was being taught.

One day, Mr. Comeau packed up some borrowed fishing gear, and his two specially trained dogs that performed the duties he couldn't into his 1985, modified Cadillac Eldorado and set out for the lake on Saturday morning.

This would be his first and last time ice fishing.

Before he left, he told a friend, Mr. Rochon, he'd catch his own dinner that night. It was the last time he would be seen.

Mr. Comeau's lifeless body was pulled from the frigid waters of 31 Mile Lake, about three metres from where his car had broken through the ice.

"His body was about 10 feet from the car," said Sureté du Quebec spokesman Const. Marc Ippersiel. "We think he got out of the car, but with only his arms, and his winter clothes being wet and heavy, he couldn't make it out of the lake."

He was in an area where a large stream empties into the lake causing the ice to remain thin even in extremely cold weather.

It wasn't until five days later when conservation officers found the hole in the ice - more than 200 metres from the main track down the lake used by experienced fisherman.

And the reason they found it is heart breaking. They'd been searching for five days without luck when one of the officers heard dogs braying in a bay hidden from the main track.

As they approached, Mr. Comeau's two helper dogs were standing by the hole barking. When they got close, the dogs ran away into the hills.

As divers readied to enter the water, the dogs came down to watch. Afterwards, the dogs -- after spending five days around the whole their master died in -- were packed into a police car, and driven to Mr. Comeau's family in Montreal.

Police say the ice where Mr. Comeau's car fell through would have been thick enough to support a moving car, and, because of this, they believe he had decided to fish there and stopped the car, at which point its full weight broke through.

"It was nothing more than an accident," Const. Ippersiel said. "He stopped at the wrong spot."
Best Friends Die Together

Buddies since high school and both keen fishermen, Ben Konieczny and Paul Kelly died together when their car plunged through thin ice in the Bay of Quinte.

On this trip the two Mississauga men, aged 27 and 28, had gone ice fishing in an unfamiliar area farther east of the spot they had fished many times.

Their bodies were pulled from the frozen bay near Belleville, about 180 kilometres (112 miles) east of Metro, three days after they were reported missing from their fishing trip.

"I was going to go with them, but decided not to this time," said Brenda Parkin, Konieczny's girlfriend, who believes the pair were looking for a place to get back on to shore when their car plunged through thin ice at nightfall Saturday.

If she had been there she would have been nagging them to get off the ice before dark, she added.

The two men had been close since the days they were locker partners at Glen Forest High School, Parkin said.

A photocopy machine repairman for a Mississauga firm, Konieczny, of Hull St. in Malton, was described as a happy-go-lucky young man who loved fishing and heavy metal music.

Their living room contains three aquariums housing three sizable piranhas and two turtles. Two enormous pickerel caught by the couple are mounted together on a large driftwood wall hanging.

"He has tons of friends who have yet to be told of what happened," Parkin said.

Kelly, of Bonner Rd., who worked at a heavy equipment plant in Brampton, was described by a friend last night as always happy.

"This must be just terrible for Arlene (Kelly's common-law wife of more than a decade)," said Luis Posadas, a good friend.

"He'd always bug me to go fishing with him, but I never really had the nerve," he said.

ice fishing
Kids look up to adults, so set a good example
Tragedy for 3, Miracle for 1

An ice fishing trip ended in tragedy for three and a miracle for one - all residents of Aupaluk, an Inuit community on the western shore of Ungava Bay, northeast of Montreal.

Three women, all in their late 50s left with a 10-year-old boy on snowmobiles for a fishing trip last Friday.

Bad weather started later in the day. It cleared briefly but by Saturday had turned into a full- scale blizzard that continued through the weekend.

When the storm died down and the four had not returned, a ground search party set out.

They located the party Tuesday. The women were dead but the boy was still alive.

Searchers said the women had used all their blankets to wrap the boy and buried him in snow near their snowmobiles to protect him against the wind.

The searchers rushed back to the community with the boy who was taken by helicopter to Kuujuaq, 200 km south at the foot of Ungava Bay.

He had severe frostbite on his hands and feet.
ice fishing
Don't forget to wear lots of layers of clothing.
"He Lived for the Water"

George Dolbeck, 60, a longtime North Bay resident and businessman, is remembered as a "real go-getter who loved life and loved to laugh."

"He was a loving, loyal generous friend and family was everything to him," said his daughter, Vicki Dolbeck. "He was a very proud father and grandfather."

Ontario Provincial Police divers pulled Dolbeck's body from Lake Nipissing near Sweetbriar Island at the mouth of Callander Bay.

Dolbeck had left his camp on snowmobile at about 8 p.m. after a day of ice fishing.

Dolbeck was husband to Corrine "Connie" (Charette) and father to Michael, 38, Vicki, 29, of Kitchener and Tara, 27, of Richmond Hill.

Dolbeck was an avid outdoorsman who took great pleasure from fishing and boating.

"He lived for the water," his father said.

Dolbeck went ice fishing with friends.

"He left from our house to go fishing and we were expecting him back at 8:30 p.m., and there was no George. My husband, two friends and my son had taken the truck (to come back) and George was coming by snow machine. When he didn't come back, everyone went looking for him," said Jackie Regimbald, Dolbeck's secretary and close friend.

OPP snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles continued to search, while a helicopter and dive unit were called in to help.

"We were hoping he was just broken down," said Senior Const. John Brunet, with the joint services snowmobile patrol.

Friends searching the lakeshore for any sign of Dolbeck or his snowmobile found his helmet floating in open water about 30 metres long and 18 metres wide near where his body was later found.

"This spot is always bad," said Brunet, explaining Dolbeck knew the current in the area makes it difficult for ice to form.

"He warned other people who come out (on the lake) about it," Brunet said.

The lack of snow on the ice, he said, makes it difficult to see a clear path.

"We presume he must have misjudged his path home. Had there been snow, he would have seen the tracks."

OPP advise people to avoid riding on frozen lakes and rivers.

"There is no such thing as safe ice," said Const. Larry McCormick, a diver technician with the OPP's underwater search and recovery unit.

"Ice is very unpredictable and you can only be sure of the spot that you measured," said Const. Paul Connell, team leader with the unit.

Ice conditions can change in a period of several hours, police said. If you must cross ice, ask first, then stay on the packed or marked trail.

Don't stop until you reach shore. If you hit slush, don't let off on the throttle.

If you are following someone who hits slush, veer off to make your own path.

OPP say anyone traveling over lakes and rivers should consider using a buoyant snowmobile suit.

"Also consider carrying a set of picks which will help you grip the edge of the ice more easily," a press release states.

"As a rule of thumb ... if you don't know, don't go. If you do break through the ice, don't panic."

Have fun and catch a big one!