Winter is an exciting time for ice anglers. Waiting for the right time to get onto the ice is crucial because the ice can be treacherous if you don’t know what to look out for. Have you ever wondered what the safest ice thickness you can venture onto for ice fishing is? Or can you ice fish on 2 inches of ice?

It is considered unsafe to ice fish on 2 inches of ice. Although 2 inches could hold the weight of a slender person or small child, ice fishing is a stationary sport, and weight is focused on one area that can make it weaker faster. The recommended thickness is 4 inches and above.

Unless you want to swim with the fishes or become a token ice lolly, the safest action to take is to ask experts in your area – unless you’re an expert already – what the best ways of checking ice thickness are. I did a little digging around to determine the correct ice thickness for ice fishing. Let’s take a look;

Why Is It Unsafe To Ice Fish On 2 Inches Of Ice?

The load-bearing capacity of ice less than 3 inches tick is very little. The weight of an average man is around 190 pounds without any gear or thick clothing. It’s safe to say that the fishing gear can add another 100 lb on top of that.

Trying to walk onto 2 inches of ice with almost 300 lb is extremely risky and will likely result in the ice breaking and the person falling in. As a rule, it is best to go ice fishing with a buddy or if you are unable, always have radio contact or cellular contact with a designated person. This person should be aware of your location at all times.

It is recommended to wait until a hard freeze to form solid, clear ice before determining the thickness.

How Many Inches Of Ice Is Required For Safe Ice Fishing?

The minimum required ice thickness should be 4 inches to ice fish safely. The ice should typically be new, clear, and sometimes have a blue tinge. This ice typically forms when the temperature is very low and indicates a deep freeze of the water body.

It is important to note that no iced lake or river is ever 100% safe, even if it is your regular ice fishing spot. Always take precautions and make sure you measure the ice depth. Many ice anglers have misjudged the first ice and have fallen in and lost their lives.

How To Tell If The Ice Is Thick Enough To Ice Fish?

Using a few simple tools and methods makes it easy to determine if a lake or river has more than 2 inches of thick ice. Always proceed with caution, considering that no ice is 100% safe. You will need the following tools.

  • Cordless drill
  • Ice fishing chisel or a Spud
  • Ice Auger
  • Tape Measure
  • Ice picks for safety should you fall in

Using the Spud, you stab at the ice in front of you to check for any signs of weakness. You take the cordless drill and drill a hole until you hit the water at the spot where you want to test.

Alternatively, you use the Ice Auger to bore a hole into the ice. Take the tape measure and put it up to hook the base with the lip. Read the measurement and check. Three inches or less is not sufficient to bear a load. Three inches and over – proceed with caution, but it’s thick enough for ice fishing.

What Are The Ice Thickness Recommendations To Consider?

ItemIce ThicknessEstimate LoadActivityRecommendation
1 PersonNo Indication200lbWalkingStay Off The Ice
1 Person2 Inches200lbWalkingStay Off The Ice
1 Person + Gear4 Inches400lbFishingCheck Ice. Proceed With Caution
3 Persons + Gear5 to 6 Inches800lbFishingEnsure large safe area and proceed
Person On Snow Mobile6 to 8 inches1200 lbDriving slowLook out for cracks

What Conditions Should You Consider Before Ice Fishing?

When looking for a fishing spot on a lake – here are a few things you should be looking for while you’re scouting the ice for the perfect spot, and they are;

  • Point breaks
  • Breaks
  • Underwater humps
  • Weed lines
  • Mid lake humps
  • Rock piles

The weather on the ice can change at any moment. In winter, snowstorms or a blizzard can form fast. Spontaneous weather conditions could disorient you if you do not consider your geographical area. This can easily cause you to wander onto thinner ice should you take off in the wrong direction.

How Fast Does Ice Grow On A Lake?

When winter arrives, and the temperatures plummet, every ice fisher eagerly awaits to set foot on that pristine and newly formed ice, but nobody likes to wait. Patience to wait for good ice formation is the name of the game in ice fishing.

The temperature is 15 degrees below every day, and the ice adds 1 inch of thickness in 24 hours. You need at least 4 to 5 days with low temperatures to get a good 4 inches of ice. Venturing onto the ice before that is risky because new ice might look ready, but it will not be the correct thickness.

At What Temperature Does A Lake Freeze?

The surface of the water starts freezing at 32 F. It starts to spread downward into the lake from the surface, and it starts to thicken. Typically in the very shallow lakes, it could freeze down. There will be a body of water left unfrozen in larger, deeper lakes.

Fish can happily survive in water that is between 30 and 40F. The thick ice layer on top serves as a form of insulation. In very deep lakes, the pressure at the bottom allows the water to get very cold without expanding. Due to the pressure, the lakes can become very cold without freezing over.


Ice fishing on anything less than 4 inches of clear, well-formed ice is extremely risky and should be avoided at all costs.


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