What’s the easiest way to test the thickness and strength of snow-covered or otherwise questionable ice? Just jab it with an ice chisel, also known as a spud bar. This safety tool is simply a sturdy, four- to five-foot-long metal bar with a sharp chisel-like point. Depending on how fancy you like to get, handle options range from bare metal to a vibration-dampening grip with a lanyard.
While you generally want your ice-fishing gear to be as light as possible, that’s not the case with a spud. Its substantial weight lets you test the ice by banging the business end into the surface with some authority, like a heavy-duty walking stick. Safe, strong ice will chip away, but if the end penetrates for some distance—stop walking and head back to safety. An ice chisel can also be used for reopening old holes or cutting holes when the ice is less than six inches thick.