How to go ice fishing?
Author: Mike Gnatkowski
Ice-fishing can result in a memorable outing or a miserable experience. There doesn’t seem to be any in between. It all depends on how well you’re prepared.
Spend just a few hours sitting on a plastic bucket, staring down a hole, freezing your extremities, with the wind spitting snow down the back of your neck and a few measly fish on the ice is not the way to get started ice-fishing. You’re likely to proclaim yourself a full-fledged couch potato after an outing like that and never venture onto the ice again. But with today’s modern equipment – shelters, heaters, tackle and clothing – it’s easier to have a successful and enjoyable day on the ice than ever before. Go prepared, plan accordingly and you may actually look forward to your next ice-fishing adventure. Who knows, you may even come to like ice-fishing. It can make winter go by a whole lot faster.
It doesn’t matter where you live in the northern tier of states, there’s a lake, pond or impoundment within driving distance that offers ice-fishing opportunities. The most commonly sought-after species by ice-fishermen include panfish, like bluegills, sunfish, crappie and perch; and northern pike, walleye and trout. Panfish are probably the easiest for the beginning angler to catch, they’re plentiful and usually willing biters. Panfish are abundant in most lakes and reservoirs, and the equipment required to catch them is minimal. Plus, they’re great on the table.
Before you decide to go ice-fishing you need to take some precautions. Ice thickness and quality is constantly changing so make sure the ice is safe before you venture out. Most experts agree that a minimum of 6" of ice is enough for safe foot traffic for use with ATV’s or snowmobiles. Check with local officials, other anglers and make sure the ice is safe before you venture out. Also, take life-saving gear with you – length of rope, awls or screwdrivers for pulling yourself back onto the ice; a life jacket, ice creepers, a whistle and a cell phone. Hopefully you’ll never need them, but if you do, you’ll be glad you brought them. Make sure you let someone know when you plan on returning and where you’re planning on fishing.
How you dress is going to have a big effect on how comfortable a day you’re going to have on the ice. Pay special attention to your head, hands and feet. If they get cold, your inner core is likely to be cold. Take an extra pair of gloves or mittens. Boots need to be well-insulated for cold-weather use. Dress in layers. If you’re walking out on the ice, you might want to open up your coat and/or take your hat off to let heat escape. Bundle back up once you reach your destination. The same goes when drilling holes. Drilling can be tough work and you can work up a sweat. 90% of your body’s heat loss is via your head so taking you cap or stocking hat off can keep you from overheating. Once in the shanty with the heater going you can take off layers until you reach the right comfort level.
Picking tackle depends on the species you’re targeting. You need to balance your equipment or tackle in order to present baits that are going to interest certain species of game fish. Using the right tackle will allow you to detect bites and catch fish.
Light line and tackle are used for most panfish species. Panfish generally don’t weigh more than a pound so you can use lighter tackle. Panfish also bite very lightly at times, so you need equipment that will allow you to detect light bites and use light line. The norm when fishing panfish is usually 2- to 4-lb. test and generally the lighter the better. My personal panfish outfit is loaded with 3/4-lb. smoke-colored sewing thread. It’s strong enough to handle any panfish. I get more bites using the light line and panfish feel little resistance when they bite. Super-light line allows lethargic winter panfish to suck in tiny baits. The line is invisible in the ultraclear waters of winter too. Several companies now make lines strictly for ice-fishing. Combine the light line with a delicate spring bobber that will detect the subtle bite of a winter panfish.
Of course, to fish with hair-thin line you need equipment that can handle it. Manufacturers now make micro-sized spinning and spincast reels for use with spider-web- thin monofilament. You can buy wispy ice rods, capable of acting like a big shock absorber, to handle the light line. Outfits, which feature slightly stiffer rods, bigger reels and heavier line, are better suited to those targeting game fish like pike, walleye and trout.
Baits used for ice-fishing vary depending on the species. Bluegills and sunfish are bug eaters and can be caught most readily on larva including spikes, wax worms and mousies. Crappies can be caught on larva, minnows or scent-enhanced baits. Bigger game fish are generally meat eaters and are most readily caught on minnows or jigging lures that imitate dying minnows. Trout can be caught on all of the above in addition to roe or spawn.
Tip-ups are another option for bigger game fish. Just as the name implies, the device tips up or a flag goes up when a fish takes the bait. Tip-ups come in various shapes and forms, but all basically work the same way. The line is lowered below the ice and then the tip-up is set or triggered so a flag goes up when a fish grabs the bait. The fish is then fought hand-over-hand without the aid of a reel. Some ingenious devises called Slammers act like a tip-up, but incorporate a rod and reel, which is a big advantage when tangling with hard-fighting fish or when fishing deep water.