Reading the Ice?
I have extremely limited time ice fishing and hope that some might share their "knowledge based on experience" on how to "read" the ice. What is good, what is bad, etc. I would be a little more comfortable on the ice if I knew better how to analize what I see.
We were just reviewing ice safety today at work. Here is some basic info from our meeting.
First, you must look at the ice itself. If the lake is covered with snow, you can't see the ice to read it and it is easy to run into hidden problems under the snow. The strongest ice is clear blue/black in color. If the ice is white and looks like frozen slush, then it will only have about 1/2 the strength. Ice over moving water (rivers) is about 15-20% weaker than lake ice. Stay off ANY ice that is less than 3" thick. A general rule is:
3-4" foot traffic only, single file and far apart
5" snowmobile traffic
8-10" light truck (<2.5 tons gross)
A good ice fishing/snowmobile general rule is 6" of clear black ice.
You may need to punch some test holes at the edge of the lake to verify thickness in the early season. If you're using vehicle access to get there, a battery drill with a foot-long 1" auger-type wood bit works great. Mark it at 4" for minimum and 6" for safe and note when it punches through. If you can drill deeper than 6", you can stop and move on. Once you test safe right next to shore, move out a bit and test again. Ice over shallow water and right next to shore will not be the same thickness and strength as ice further out.
Also, when navigating early season ice, consider wearing a PFD and carrying some self-rescue ice picks. The safest measure is to also use a rope teather to someone on shore while you test the ice depth.
Here is a link to an ice thickness reference card.