New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department is urging Granite Staters to be cautious on or around ice this early in the season, saying it may not be as thick as it appears — even during a cold snap.
“What we say is no ice is completely safe. It’s all different. It’s not uniform and you’ll have to test it wherever you go,” Fish and Game Capt. Dave Walsh said Monday. “It’s unusual to have a November like we had and it’s unusual to have people ice fishing statewide in December.”
While small lakes and ponds in northern areas are ahead in the big chill, southern areas and larger bodies of water may not yet have thick enough ice to support much weight, he said.
Walsh, who coordinates OHRV law enforcement and safety education for Fish and Game, said the agency doesn’t list “minimum” thickness levels for safety, partly because there are so many variables involved.
Al MacDougal of Manchester ventured out to Lake Massabesic on Monday to try his luck fishing. He used an auger to drill through about 3 to 3.5 inches of ice on a cove off Londonderry Turnpike in Auburn. MacDougal moved his gear on a sled and was hoping to pull some fish from the lake, which he said was stocked with trout in the fall for ice fishing.
Not far from where he was fishing, there was no ice at all from the shore to about 30 yards out in a spot where a feeder spring meets the lake.
Walsh said inlets are one of many variables that affect the thickness of ice. Wind, current and vegetation are other factors people sometimes don’t consider when the weather has been cold for a while and the surface ice appears sound, he said.
Vegetation gives off heat, which can mean thinner ice.
“It’s just not all the same. They just have to keep testing it,” Walsh said. “And just because somebody might be ice fishing and comfortable on ‘X’ amount of inches, doesn’t mean you and I would be comfortable on it.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover recommends a minimum of 6 inches of hard ice for foot travel and 8-10 inches for snow machine or OHRV traffic.
Walsh said snowmobilers should stay off the ice for now until it has a chance to thicken up a little.
“Technically, not all the trails are open for snowmobiles until Dec. 15. It’s just way too early to be considering that,” he said. “Most years it’s not an issue because we don’t even have snow on Dec. 15. This year we had it Nov. 15.”
Granite Staters should also hold off on attempting to truck out from the shore and set up fishing shacks for now, Walsh said. Larger bodies like Lake Winnepesaukee still have open water and are many weeks away from freezing over. Ice covering streams and rivers should also be a high concern when it comes to winter recreation, Walsh said.
On Sunday, firefighters in Exeter rescued a dog after it had fallen through the ice on the Exeter River.
“You could have some of the coldest winters going and there will be certain sections of rivers and streams that just will not freeze, so exercise extreme caution on those flowing water bodies,” Walsh said.
For those who are ready to test the ice, Walsh said it’s important to have the proper equipment. Walsh recommended as standard gear “float coats” — winter coats outfitted with flotation devices — and ice picks.
“If you do fall through, these picks can help hold on to the end of the ice and give leverage to pull yourself out,” he said. “For a five-dollar investment, it’s a no-brainer.”
Additional Fish and Game tips about ice safety can be found at: