While it's not for every angler, thoughts of a fun-filled Montana ice fishing excursion are starting to beckon many.

For me personally, that down time between late fall and early spring not being out on my float tube pitching lures is a void that needs to be filled. Fishing, skating, snowmobiling and more call for good, solid, "hard" water. Let's see if we can help you feel a bit more secure out there on the ice.

When on the ice, you should be familiar with the body of water you've chosen. Pay close attention to the changing conditions of the ice. If you have even the slightest doubt about the safety of the ice—stay off of it. Nothing is ever worth a fall into frigid water.

Blue or “clear” ice is usually hard. Watch out for opaque, gray, dark or porous spots in the ice that could be weak, soft areas. Ice also tends to thin more quickly at the shorelines.

Note areas on the ice that look “different.” They usually are. Many times, thinner areas of ice (caused by springs, gas pockets, sunken islands, points, etc.) have a different color or look to them. Use extreme caution or stay away from these areas.

Here are some recommended ice thickness guidelines:

Under 4 inches: STAY OFF

4 inches: ice fishing or other activities on foot

7 inches: snowmobile or ATV

10 inches: small car

12 inches: truck or SUV

If you're not equipped with a measuring device, ask other people out on the ice what their measurements indicate. Montana angles are a helpful bunch and don't want you to fall through anymore than you do.

Lakes and ponds do not freeze at the same thickness all over. Some ponds have windmills to aerate water for fish survival, and ice may be thin near these areas.

Rivers, streams and springs weaken ice by wearing it away from underneath. Avoid going on ice on rivers and streams, or where a river or stream enters a lake, pond or reservoir.

Most of all, please remember that no ice is 100 per cent safe! Do all you can to minimize any danger. It's a great pastime when treated with lots of respect.

Special thanks to Angela Montana of montanaoutdoor.com for her contributions to this helpful overview.

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