Spring Life: Montana Ice Fishing

Montana ice Fishing

Updated 1/3/18

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 blast and can be a great way to catch a bunch of fish at a time, but steps need to be taken to ensure 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 water ranging 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 decrease as water temperatures decrease. 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. 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy our discussions on Beef – the Healthy Protein, Montana Ranches Wildlife – Mule Deer, and Eastern Montana Ranches





About Buzz Tatom

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Buzz Tatom is a ranch owner and has built, run and sold numerous businesses in his career. This gives him a unique background in helping Montana farmers and ranchers navigate the life decisions that we all have to face. Whether it is passing the ranch on to the next generation or planning for eventual sale, his talents and contacts help save clients money and navigate complicated transactions.

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He still owns the 5T Ranch in Texas but now calls Big Sky, MT home. His background in Texas included finding run down ranches and rehabilitating them into show place properties. From building lakes, stocking fish, to managing for wildlife he has a proven record of increasing values of properties that have given families great memories and returns.

His successful business background allows him to have good knowledge in contracts, dealing with people and has a wide variance of knowledge from his experience in dealing with oil and gas companies on his properties to manufacturing background to knowing who to call to get answers.

He has a BBA from Texas Tech University and got his MBA from Southern Methodist University. While at Texas Tech, he played football and was a 3 year starter as a Tight End. He bought into a Printing company at the age of 24 and grew it ten fold by the time it was sold in 2011.

Buzz teaches part time at Montana State University and loves mentoring students. He has been married to the love of his life, Kathy Tatom, for 25 years and has one son(Tate) and 2 daughters(Sayler and Emmy).

His hobbies include hunting, fly fishing, improving the 5T and following his son Tate in his golf career at the Air Force Academy. His life is divided between family, volunteering, teaching part time at MSU and Church.


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