Ice Road Etiquette

If you find yourself in Sunset Country using ice roads for fishing, travelling, or just plain fun, here are some guidelines to keep yourself safe—and educated—in the North.

Courtesy Goes a Long Way

While it’s tough to beat the backcountry beauty that we have across Northwest Ontario’s Sunset Country Region, we are fortunate that ice roads dot many of our larger bodies of water. This makes it easy for anglers, commuters, and explorers to get out on the ice without having to travel via snowmobile or ATV. 

An ice road is a convenient option for anglers when you only have a few hours to get out, if want to take out some friends who might not have all the gear necessary for backcountry adventures or if it’s extremely cold.   

Many volunteers offer countless hours of their time to the maintenance of the ice roads in these communities. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd

Ice roads are common around most of the larger communities across the region and on many of the bigger lakes. These roads will take you over to some of the best fishing locations on the lake and can certainly make life easy with regard to getting out fishing. My personal experience on ice roads has mostly taken place out on Lake of the Woods, around Nestor Falls, Sioux Narrows, and Kenora, which has an extensive road system that stretches all the way down to Minnesota.  

Everyone is free to use the ice roads but there is some etiquette that we should all know to keep everybody happy and safe out on the ice, especially the people who build and maintain the roads. Show them your appreciation by following these guidelines.

A quick way to commute for residents, easily accessed fishing for all! Photo: Erin Rody 

Don’t Drill Holes in the Road

This is probably the number one no-no, especially amongst those who plow the roads. When the snow is deep, it’s easier to just drill holes in the road but this can create big problems. The weight of the snow pushes water up through the hole, which will flood the road. The issues happen when the water on the road starts to freeze; then, when driving over it, you break through the top layer of the ice, which has water between it and the main section of ice. This can cause you to get stuck, as well as damage to your vehicle from chunks of ice wreaking havoc on your brakes and other parts located under your vehicle.  

Don’t Litter

One of the things that irritate a lot of ice road users is the amount of litter that can turn up out there. Usually, it isn’t highly visible trash like cans or bottles, but the stuff that is not as visible, like fishing lines or ziplock bags. I know it should really go without saying and it does for most people I think but our lakes are so beautiful so please do your part to not create any litter on the ice. Please pick everything up! Pack out what you brought in. 

Quickly accessible fun fishing is available for all just off of the ice roads. Photo: Jeff Gustafson

Watch Where You Park

When it comes to parking along the ice roads, there are a few things that you should consider. If there is any fresh snow on the ground, the people that have the contracts to plow the roads will probably be making the rounds to keep the roads cleared before any snow drifts start to form.

Move your vehicle off of the ice road if possible, especially during bad weather. Photo: Jeff Gustafson

Do not park on the side of the road to prevent them from doing their job, especially on the main road. If you do, you should not be upset if you are snowed in. The best bet may be to stay with your vehicle and be prepared to move it if you see a plow truck coming. 

Space Yourselves out

Early in the season, before the ice is really thick it is a bad idea to park too many vehicles close together. You can tell if you are doing this because when you drill a hole to fish, the ice will sag and water will start running up through your hole and onto the ice. This is a sign that the ice is failing and can also create problems for the people making the roads. Do not park too close to other vehicles early in the season. 

Use regular winter driving precautions while on the ice road. Photo: Erin Rody 

Remember that many people use the ice roads each year: to go fishing, to go to work, and many to access their homes. Be mindful of other users and we can all enjoy the roads and have some fun out there.  

Resource:  Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources ice fishing page.

About Jeff Gustafson

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods. His outgoing, genuine, friendly attitude makes him a natural outdoor writer, fishing and hunting guide." You'll see him fishing the Bass Master Tournament Circuit where he's has had a lot of success against the best bass anglers on the planet. Jeff also fishes many bass tournaments in Ontario's Sunset Country, his home base. 

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