Best Ice Fishing Safety Picks And Why You Need Them

Ice fishing season is finally here and oh boy, are we excited!  While drilling holes and catching fish is our focus, we never loose sight of safety.  And neither should you.

Ice fishing without the right safety gear, or the common sense to go along with it, results in accidents every winter.  We are, of course, talking about falling through the ice.  A terrifying prospect for sure and a situation anyone who has walked across a frozen lake has thought about.

Don’t kid yourself either.  Even the most cautious anglers find themselves in perilous conditions on ever changing sheets of ice.  However, a few essential pieces of ice fishing equipment might mean the difference between a close call or a tragic fishing season.

Arguably, the most important piece of safety gear are ice picks.  So, what are the best ice fishing safety picks?  

There are several options on the market but at the end of the day, the best ice picks are the ones you never leave at home.  Frabill retractable ice picks are a top choice and the ones we carry.

Not sure what ice picks are?  Trying to figure out which ones to buy?  Then you have come to the right place.  Read on to learn all about ice safety picks and the best options for you.

What are ice fishing safety picks

It’s not falling though the ice that kills you.  It’s not being able to get out.  The shock of frigid water temporarily saps all reason from your brain and if you let it, panic sets in.  Once you’re immersed in the icy water, the hypothermia clock starts ticking. 

Many people who go through the ice succumb to the panic and exhaust themselves trying to escape.  Even if you remain calm, crawling back onto safe ice is nearly impossible.  You simply can’t get traction on the edge of a slippery surface.

Enter the ice pick.  Ice safety picks are nothing more than a couple 1” steel spikes imbedded in hand grips that are connected by a 5 or 6 foot stretch of cord.  But they can save your life. 

Quite simply, ice picks work because they allow you to get purchase on wet ice so you can pull yourself from the water by hand.

They are designed to hang around your neck so they are ready at a moments notice.  Also, the grips are easy to hang onto and work for large and small anglers alike.   

How do you use ice picks

Now that we are all on the same page and know what ice picks are, how do you use them?  It’s not good enough to just buy a pair, hang them around your neck and forget about them.

Using them effectively requires practice.  Obviously, you’re not going to dive into sub-zero water just to practice crawling out with picks.  But you can practice by thinking through the scenario.

Simply imagine plunging into the bone chilling water and gasping for breath.  Then, start training your brain to immediately calm down and reach for the picks.  Go through the actual motions of calming yourself and reaching for your picks.  

I encourage you to also test out the picks on safe ice.  Start learning the motion needed to wiggle out of the water and back onto safe ice.  It takes just a few simple steps to practice.

Step 1

Start by laying down on your stomach on the ice in a safe spot.

Step 2  

Grab your picks and dig into the ice in front of you.

Step 3  

Reach hand over hand and drag yourself along until you get a sense of the motion required to move yourself across the ice.

If you ever do go through the ice, always remember to pull yourself out towards the direction you came from.  That is the direction of safe ice.  It can be challenging to get orientated but if you stay calm, you’ll see your tracks.  Lay as flat as possible on the edge of the ice and use your picks while kicking in the water. 

Simply explaining how to get out of the water is not enough.  Take a look at the video below and watch Aaron Wiebe of Uncut Angling demonstrate how to get out of the ice.  See how it’s done, with and without picks!

Where do you carry ice picks

Safety gear doesn’t do you any good if it’s not within reach when you need it.  Sticking the ice picks deep in a pocket or in a tackle bag won’t help much if you fall in without warning.  

Any time I am on the ice, my ice picks are always around my neck.  That is why they have such a long stretch cord.  They are within easy reach and easy to find every time.

If the picks are constantly in your way when dangling around your neck then tuck the picks in an outside pocket near your chest.  But keep the cord around your neck. 

Some ice picks come with extra long cords designed to be fed around your neck and down each sleeve for super quick access when you need them.  It’s a great concept but they often get in the way and can be hard to grab when in the water. 

The 3 best picks for ice fishing

Ice safety picks are a fairly straight forward and simple device.  Even so, there are more than enough picks to choose from out there.

Any ice pick is better than no ice pick but there are a few things I expect from good, quality picks.

First, good ice picks have retractable sheaths around the points.  This keeps them from poking you or your clothes when not in use.  The covers are just a sheath with an internal spring that automatically retracts when you force it into the ice.  

Avoid getting a pick that has fixed covers over the point.  You won’t have the time or presence of mind to manually remove the covers if you go through the ice.  I also don’t like exposed points because getting poked might make you take them off.

Second, they must be durable with a strong lanyard.  The spikes should be thick enough to support the weight of a large adult without bending.  In addition, the lanyard needs to keep them securely attached so you don’t loose them.

And finally, they should float.  This is not a must but it’s an added bonus incase they slip off your neck when you break through the ice.  Floating picks will at least remain nearby.

There are a few excellent ice picks that check most of those boxes for me and these are the three I strongly recommend.  

#1  Frabill Ice Picks

The Frabill retractable ice picks check off most of the boxes on my list.

The strong spikes are covered by an easy glide sheath that reliably pushes out of the way when needed. 

Also, the lanyard is plenty secure and I love that it is a coiled stretch cord which keeps them up higher on my torso and out of the way.  Yet, it is still long enough to use while around my neck.

These bright yellow Frabill picks are light weight but don’t float. However, they are the most affordable set of picks on the list.  As far as I’m concerned, you’re done shopping.  Just buy these ones!

#2  HT Enterprise Deluxe Polar Ice Picks

HT Enterprise produces loads of high quality ice fishing gear and their picks are no exception.  

While they don’t suit my needs as well as the Frabill picks, they do function well for their intended use.  The retractable sheaths slide easy and I especially like the rubber grips as opposed to the plastic grips on other brands.

The Polar Ice Picks come with an extra long lanyard for feeding down your sleeves but I’m not a fan of securing them this way.  I prefer a coiled lanyard that keeps them secured around my neck and out of the way.

These are light weight but they don’t float so that is a negative in my opinion.  However, that doesn’t mean they are useless and they should serve their purpose for any ice angler just as the Frabill picks would.

#3  NRS Pick-of-Life Ice Awls 

Another excellent choice for anyone venturing onto the ice are the NRS Pick-of-Life Ice Awls.  

With short, stout picks, the Pick-of-Life can handle heavy loads without failing.  They also have retractable covers like the others on this list.  The lanyard is made of strong, thin rope similar to the HT ice picks.  Again, I much prefer the coiled stretch lanyard on the Frabill.

The last box on my list gets checked off since they float and the blaze orange color ensures you won’t miss place them.  

As good as these picks are, they rank number 3 on the list due to their steep price.  If you’re willing to pay top dollar for safety, then the NRS Pick-of-Life is a good buy.

Final thoughts

Going through the ice is a scary prospect for many people.  Ice picks go a long ways in giving you peace of mind while you’re on the ice.  Remember though that having safety gear is no substitute for using your common sense.  

Avoid dangerous situations so you won’t need to use your emergency equipment.  First ice is an exciting time for us avid anglers but catching fish on thin ice is never worth the risk.  

Have fun on the ice this season and get yourself a pair of ice safety picks! 

Want to get the most out of your ice fishing season? Check out our Washington State Ice Fishing Secrets book. Our book highlights the 10 best lakes for ice fishing in Washington State with actual coordinates to some of our most productive holes. Plus, we thoroughly cover everything from gear selection, tactics and travel planning. To top it off, you also get information on 41 other lakes with superb ice fishing! Check it out before ice fishing season passes you by!