Spring Life: Montana Ice Fishing

Montana ice Fishing

March typically signals the end of the Montana ice fishing season. As the weather grows warmer, the ice covering the majority of open water in Montana starts to recede. This can be a dangerous time for prospective ice fisherman. It is important to pay attention to weather reports as well as ice fishing reports in order to remain safe on ice in the spring. As spring advances, Ice fishing will cease to be a practical form of fishing as more lakes become free of ice allowing for open water fishing. Ice fishing is a great deal of fun and can be very productive but steps need to be taken to insure the safety of the fishermen on the ice.

Ice Strength

Montana ice fishingIt is critical to know the depth of the ice when ice fishing. Any ice that is 2 inches thick or less should not be walked on. Snow ice or ice that appears white in nature is approximately half as strong as clear black and blue ice. For the thickness guidelines below, you should double the recommended thicknesses for snow ice.

Three inches of clear ice is necessary to hold a single person on foot. Four inches is required for a group of people walking in a single file line and is a great thickness for Montana ice fishing. Seven and a half inches is needed to support the weight of a car. Eight inches is necessary to support the weight of a small truck. Twelve inches of ice can support eight tons and ice that is thirty-six inches deep can support 110 tons. On rivers, ice is roughly 15% weaker than the above-mentioned guidelines and therefore should be accounted for very carefully.

Dangers: Hypothermia

It is crucial to know the thickness of the ice because falling through ice into the frigid water is life threatening. The average winter temperature of most Montana ice fishing lakes is approximately 36°F. This may not seem extremely cold, but it can cause the rapid onset of hypothermia. In order for you to experience hypothermia, your body only needs to fall from its normal temperature of 98.6°F to 95°F. When you fall into the water, the process of hypothermia is accelerated because body heat is lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air.

If you fall into the water between 40°F and 32.5°F you have between 15 and 30 minutes before exhaustion or unconsciousness. From the time you fall in the water, you have approximately 30 to 90 minutes before death. These times increase as water temperatures increase. If you fall into the water without a flotation device it is best to tread water. Your survival time is increased by treading water rather than trying to float. If you do have a flotation device on when you fall in, remaining still is one of the best ways to conserve body heat and increase survival times.

Montana Ice fishingHypothermia Treatment

If you or someone else become a victim of hypothermia while ice fishing it is important to follow specific steps. After rescuing the victim from the water, start by getting all cold, wet clothing off their body and reapplying dry clothing or blankets. The goal is to prevent further heat loss. The next step is to try and warm the victim up. This must be done gradually to prevent the cold blood from their extremities from returning to their core too quickly. If this happens, the victim may be susceptible to ventricular fibrillation which can lead to cardiac arrest. Another way to warm victims up is by applying warm, not hot, water bottles to the victim’s neck, head, and core areas. This will help warm the victim’s blood and slowly increase their body temperature.


As the temperatures change during the Montana spring it is important to notice the dangers that accompany spring ice fishing. Be conscientious of ice thicknesses and whether it is safe to go out ice fishing or not. If you do run into the situation where you or someone else is a victim of falling in, make sure to immediately treat for hypothermia. It is a matter of life and death. Be safe this spring during the final weeks of Montana ice fishing. 

About Buzz

Buzz Tatom is a Partner at Venture West Ranches. He can help you with all of your any needs regarding purchasing or selling ranches. Buzz moved to Montana 6 years ago and owns the 5T ranch in Texas. He has a BBA from Texas Tech and an MBA from SMU. He and his wife, Kathy, are involved in a number of business ventures. Buzz also enjoys being a part-time professor at MSU in the business school and mentoring students.  






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