Traveling and fishing safely during the first ice period is paramount. Never venture out on less than four inches of hard, clear ice. As you walk away from shore, use an ice spud or chisel to frequently check ice quality and thickness along your path. Recognize that ice cover is rarely uniform on any given body of water, and small variations in thickness during the early season can make the difference between safe, walkable ice and hazardous conditions. Also, remember that snow cover will insulate the ice, making it grow slower than clean, snow-free ice. Accidents can happen when you least expect them, so be sure to carry a set of ice picks to pull yourself back onto the ice sheet should you fall in, and consider wearing a personal floatation device to keep you afloat if the ice underfoot gives way.