Can You Have a Fire Ice Fishing? (Best Fire Practices!)

Ice fishing is a frigid pastime, and the cold can become bone-chilling after sitting out on the ice for a while. The fish are not the only thing that bites on the ice; the cold can be intense and offer a bite of a different kind!

In the wilderness, people make fires to keep warm and stave off the winter cold, but can you have a fire when ice fishing?

You can have a fire while ice fishing. The fire’s construction and containment may be subject to restrictions depending on the location where you are fishing. Some ice fishing locations do not allow fires directly on the ice but will allow fires elevated from the ice or in a barrel.

For many people, a fire while ice fishing is a contradiction of terms. In most minds, fire and ice do not go well together and cannot co-exist in the same location.

Building a fire directly on ice sounds like an activity from a fantasy world. The need to stay warm soon overcomes these preconceived notions, and the thought of a fire on the ice becomes an attractive prospect!

Can You Have A Fire On The Ice While Ice Fishing?

Photo of Fire on Frozen Lake
Bonfire built while ice fishing the midwest

Ice fishing is like going into a walk-in freezer sitting on an upturned bucket, and waiting! The cold of the ice starts to creep into your bones, and the longer you sit, the colder it gets!

Surely there must be a way to keep warm, and the first thought is to build a fire! On dry land, this may not seem like a wild notion, but suspended above the frigid deep water by a few inches of ice, your confidence in this idea falters!

It is possible to have a fire out on the ice when you are ice fishing, but you need to be sure of your safety and the rules governing the legalities of the fire.

Ice fishing locations will have restrictions governing the building of fires on the ice, which you need to be aware of since these locations are often well policed for public safety and conservation.

Is It Legal To Have A Fire Ice Fishing?

The legalities of having a fire out on the ice vary from location to location. The local authorities consider the general area, conservation, and public safety before imposing restrictions or total bans on fires on the ice.

A fire built directly on the ice is permitted in some locations without violating any regulations. You can make the fire on the ice in these instances, provided it is thick enough to accommodate the fire.

Generally, the only provision is that you clean up any mess such as ash and coals that result from the fire before you leave the site.

Starting fires with pollutants such as gasoline is not allowed. Anything that remains in the ice will end up I the water come springtime.

In other regions, open fires are not allowed on the ice. This could be due to the ice not being thick enough, or the open fire is a potential fire hazard for the surrounding wilderness.

Fires are generally allowed if contained in a receptacle above the ice or in a barrel to protect the ice and limit the embers emitted from the fire.

Fires of any form are entirely banned from the ice in regions where the fire could threaten public safety or the surrounding environment or pollute the water once the ice melts in spring.

In this instance, you would need to make alternative plans to keep warm such as using a propane-powered heater for warmth.

Why Fire Doesn’t Burn Through the Ice on a Frozen Lake

The heat from a fire will rise and travel upward while the temperature remains cooler beneath the fire. A buildup of ashes also insulates the ice from the fire, which is also surrounded by ice keeping it cooler. As the ice melts, the water acts against the heat, keeping the ice from melting further.

A flame is the hottest directly above itself. This is why your hand burns right above a candle and not alongside it. A fireeater uses this principle when bringing fire close to their mouths.

As the wood burns, an insulating layer of ashes forms between the ice and the fire. Between the ashes and water melt, the ice is further protected from the fire.

I’ve seen many fires on the ice and have had a few fires ourselves. You’ll never see a huge hole in the ice as a result of an overnight fire either.

Is It Safe To Have A Fire When Ice Fishing?

The first thought that comes into most people’s minds when a fire out on the ice while ice fishing is mentioned is that the fire will melt through the ice.

People envision the fire weakening the ice and the ice collapsing, dumping everyone in the vicinity into the dark, cold water below!

Fire on the ice can result in this outcome, so there are some basic rules to follow regarding the ice when you are out fishing in this environment.

  • Never go out on the ice if it is less than 3-inches thick. Ice that is less than this thickness may not bear your weight and can crack and break. Making a fire on the ice this thin is certainly taking a risk that the fire will further weaken the ice and hasten its collapse.
  • 6-inch thick ice is better but not ideal. Ice that is 6-inches thick or more is a better prospect. Ice this thick will definitely support your weight, but the structural integrity of the ice may be compromised if a fire is lit on the ice.
  • Ice that is a foot or more in thickness. Now we are getting to the ice thickness level where it is safe to carry weight and sustain the heat of a fire. Making a fire on ice this thick will be a safe way to keep warm and not end up in the water.

On thin ice, even a fire made in a barrel can damage the structure of the ice, placing it in danger of breaking.

On thicker ice, even if the top layer of ice melts, the surrounding ice and the depth of the ice will re-freeze the water on the surface.

If the ice is thick enough, even a fire made directly on the ice will not melt through the ice. Fires made directly on the ice are usually made on a bed or foundation of green wood that does not burn easily.

The green wood will eventually dry out and burn, but at that point, ash from the fire above has fallen to the bottom will act as an insulator between the fire and the ice.

The insulating effect will reduce the amount of ice melting and prevent the fire from melting entirely through the ice.

Creating a fire in a barrel or on an elevated fire stand on legs reduces the heat transmitted to the ice and limits the amount of pollution from the fire contaminating the ice.

Fires contained in a barrel also pose less fire risk to the surrounding wilderness, especially in the wintertime when trees are dry.


In some places, it is permitted to have a fire out on the ice, but there is some restriction to the type of fire you can have in most places.

Fires on the ice can result in pollutants that can enter the water of pose a safety risk if the ice is too thin.

It would be wise to take alternatives to an open fire next time you go ice fishing so that you can keep warm without the need to light an open fire!

Have fun and stay safe out there!

Mike Rodman

Mike is an avid ice fisherman and fishes the Rocky Mountain Region and across the US Ice Belt and Canada. During the off-winter months, he enjoys fly fishing the Wyoming mountains and fishing from his kayak for pike and smallmouth bass. When Mike can find a little spare time, he'll be at his rod bench building custom fishing rods.

Recent Posts