As the 2013 ice fishing season winds down, authorities are reminding hardwater angers to put safety first.

Ice conditions can be deceptive and variable, and many factors affect the thickness and strength of ice on lakes and rivers, warns Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. “Shoreline ice is often the first ice to break away, and access areas with a southern exposure can be especially vulnerable,” says the MNR’s Wil Wegman.

Anglers are advised to be especially cautious on ice that has formed over flowing water, springs, pressure cracks, old ice holes or around the mouths of rivers and streams, since it can be weaker than surrounding ice. The MNR recommends that anyone on the ice check thickness regularly with a spud bar or auger, as they move further out.

Anglers on central Ontario’s popular Lake Simcoe should also note that all ice huts need to be taken off the lake by midnight on Friday, March 15. Portable huts are still permitted as long as ice conditions permit, provided they are removed each day, and the shelters are made of fabric, with a base area of less than seven square-metres. The season for Lake Simcoe whitefish, lake trout and walleye also closes on March 15, although fishing for some other popular species, include perch and pike, remains open.

While fishing on late ice can be very good, anglers are urged to keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Clear blue ice is the strongest. White or opaque ice is much weaker.
  • Ice with a honeycombed look, common during thaws or in the spring, should be avoided.
  • Travel by snowmobiles or vehicles can be dangerous. At least eight inches of blue ice is required for snowmobiles, and 12 inches for most light vehicles. Double this thickness if the ice is white or opaque.
  • Heavy snow on a frozen lake or river can insulate the ice below and slow the freezing process.
  • Check ice conditions with local ice hut operators or other anglers.
  • Let others know where you’re planning to fish and when you plan to return.
  • Appropriate clothing and equipment are critical—many anglers wear floatation suits and carry ice picks.