Pennsylvania Ice Anglers Safety Reminders

HARRISBURG, Pa. — After several consecutive days of below freezing overnight temperatures across Pennsylvania, conditions on many lakes and ponds have become suitable for ice fishing. As many anglers prepare to venture out onto the ice for the first time this winter, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) encourages everyone to keep safety in mind before and during each adventure on the ice.

“While a relatively warm winter has prevented ice from forming consistently and thick enough for ice fishing to this point in most areas, we are starting to see those favorable conditions, especially in our northern region and areas of higher elevation,” said Kris Kuhn, Director of the PFBC Bureau of Fisheries. “If you’re anxious to get out and fish, winter can be a great time to catch a variety of species and being on the ice is a unique way to enjoy the outdoors.”

Ice fishing in Pennsylvania can be an escape for anglers seeking peace and quiet by themselves, or it can be enjoyed in a very social setting with large groups of people fishing together. Gear required to be a successful ice fisherman can be as simple as a hand-powered auger to cut a hole through the ice, standard fishing rods and jigs, and a bucket to sit on. Other anglers may choose to invest in powerful battery-operated augers, underwater cameras and monitors, and portable shelters in which to fish from.

“While the high-tech gadgets can be fun and add to the experience for some anglers, it’s most important that you have some basic, reliable safety equipment with you at all times,” said Kuhn. “We recommend that all anglers wear a life jacket, carry a pair of ice awls, and have a whistle with you if you need to alert someone for help. Once you’ve prepared for a safe trip onto the ice, you can really focus on catching fish.”

Kuhn says when conditions are suitable, anglers can seek out ice fishing opportunities by using an interactive map of quality ice fishing destinations, which include many PFBC operated lakes and Pennsylvania State Parks. This map can be located by visiting, clicking on “Fish” in the upper right corner, then selecting “Fishing,” then “Ice/Winter Fishing,” then clicking on the “Interactive Map of Ice Fishing Destinations” near the top of the page. Anglers visiting these waters can target plentiful populations of panfish, bass, pickerel, pike, musky and catfish. In addition, many lakes were stocked with trout during the fall and winter months. To locate lakes that received a fall or winter trout stocking, visit the Trout Stocking Schedules section of the PFBC website.

“Ice can be a great equalizer for fisherman trying to access the best fishing spots on a lake,” said Kuhn. “When conditions allow, you can now walk to places where you would normally need a boat to access. A lot of ice anglers will find success when they fish over our submerged habitat structures, which are on the lake bottoms and can attract many fish of all sizes.”

Maps of submerged habitat structures located in lakes across the Commonwealth can be found by visiting the Fish Habitat Improvement Plans section of the PFBC website.

Anglers ages 16 and older require a Pennsylvania fishing license, which can be purchased at more than 700 license issuing agents or online at Anglers wishing to keep trout must also have a trout/salmon permit.

Anglers should note that neither the PFBC or any authority monitors ice thickness. Always use caution and review the following Ice Fishing Tips and Safety Checklist:

Always wear a lifejacket or float coat while on the ice. Avoid inflatable lifejackets, which do not perform well in freezing temperatures
Carry a pair of ice awls, which are handheld spikes. Ice awls can assist in performing a self-rescue, in which the spikes are driven into the ice to help someone pull themselves out of the water
Carry a whistle or other noisemaking device to alert others should you require help
When arriving at the water’s edge, visually survey the ice. Look for open water areas and signs of recent changes in water levels. Ice sloping down from the bank can indicate a recent drop in water level, while wet areas on the ice can indicate a rise in water level
Listen for loud cracks or booms coming from the ice. This can be an indicator of deteriorating ice
Look for new ice, which is clear or has a blue tint. New ice is stronger than old ice, which can appear white or gray
Remember that ice thickness is not consistent across the surface of the lake or pond
Beware of ice around partially submerged objects such as trees, brush, embankments or structures. Ice will not form as quickly where water is shallow or where objects may absorb heat from sunlight
Anglers should use an ice staff to probe ahead as they walk. If the ice staff punches through, retreat to shore slowly
Never walk on ice that has formed over moving water such as a river or stream
Never go out on ice alone
Always let someone know your plans and when you expect to return