Ice Fishing Is A Fun Time!

When the leaves begin to fall, most anglers store their rods for winter. Don’t do it this year! Why not try ice fishing!

Winter anglers can catch a variety of panfish, trout, pike, muskie, walleye and bass.

Ice fishing equipment is simple with two basic types of rods — the traditional tip-up or a 3-foot long pole. The latter resembles a regular fishing rod only the eyes are bigger to prevent freeze-up and is hand-held. The tip-up is similar to a fishing mousetrap that sits on the ice with a spring-loaded line and hook. A flag pops up when a fish hits the baited tip-up.

Some anglers prefer the hand-held rod because it provides more action. A fisherman can feel the strike, adding to the excitement. Hand-held rods also offer the choice of using bait or artificial lures. Those using the short pole can work the lure or bait by jigging it under the water to entice the fish.

The baited hooks used with the tip-ups usually just sit near the bottom. One advantage of the tip-up is you can set up more than one. Check your local fishing regulations as to the number allowed to be sure.

Small silver teardrop lures are used for jigging and popular models include the Swedish Pimple (has a small, red tail that flutters), a Mr. Twister tail, or any small Rapala-type jig. Grubs and mealworms can be added. Fish usually aren’t as aggressive in winter, so a slower retrieve is necessary.

Light Line Is Key
Light line, 2-pound to 6-pound test, is the norm for smaller panfish. If the drag is working properly, that test line may not break if you hook something bigger such as a pike, muskie, lake trout or walleye.

A hand-held chisel or power auger provides your fishing hole. The power auger works best if the ice is very thick — 15 inches or more. Most long handled, metal chisels work fine, but take a little longer. As a safety measure, tie a line to the end of the chisel and hook it around your arm so it doesn’t slip out of your gloved hands and down into the hole only to be lost forever. A slotted ladle also is handy to help remove the ice chips once the hold is opened.

Some tackle shops rent augers or other fishermen will drill holes for a fee. Or you could fish a “used hole.” Get up early and find a used hole with only a thin layer of ice to poke through.

Before chopping, make sure the ice is safe and always proceed with caution. Six inches or more usually provides safe footing. Common sense works best. Many fishermen fall through the ice because they’re too eager to start the season, not willing to see it end, or don’t pay attention to warming trends. Bring along a buddy. That way you have someone to keep you company, voice complaints when the fishing is slow, and provide help just in case something does happen.

Most clothing used for regular winter activities serve well while ice fishing. The key is to keep your head, hands and feet warm. A wool cap or the newer insulated baseball caps with earflaps, and a hooded jacket should provide enough head warmth. Neck warmers also keep the wind out. Ski shops, outdoor clothing stores and some catalogs or websites, including this one, carry what you’ll need.

Staying Warm Important
Keep your hands toasty by just leaving them in your pockets if you’re using a tip-up. Hand warmers provide some relief, and even a good pair of insulated gloves fit the bill. Scuba diving gloves also work. Remember to dry your hands thoroughly after reeling in to prevent frostbite.

Insulated rubber boots (pac-style) and wool socks are fine for your feet. For cold toes try electric socks (powered by battery) to keep feet warm even in the coldest of climes. Boots that are too tight hinder circulation, so make sure you can wiggle your toes. Insulated underwear adds a layer of comfort.

Bring a piece of wood or cardboard to stand on so your feet aren’t in direct contact with the ice. A five-gallon bucket makes a great seat in addition to carrying your equipment.

Sheds, ice shanties or modified tents on ice runners are other ways to keep warm. Some are lightweight and compact enough to fold. They really keep out the cold, especially if equipped with a small stove or lantern.

Now, where to fish? Try any waterway that produced fish in warmer weather. Fish travel more slowly in winter so your “hotspot” could last for days. Study maps of the pond or lake (found at many bait shops or state agencies). The mouth of feeder streams are key areas because of the influx of food.

Catching a variety of fish means using different tactics. Panfish roam near weedbeds located by channels, drop-offs and deep-water points. Waxworms, mealworms, red worms and grubs are the best.

Weeds Can Produce
Cheese, ice spoons and larval baits are best on trout. Fishing the deeper water near weeds can produce big fish. Walleye and northern pike feed on baitfish (shiners/minnows), but they also attack artificial look-alikes. Walleyes like gravel-bottoms with bars and humps as well as deep grass and brush. Fish the deep edges of weed beds for pike. Depthfinders can help you locate these areas.

Pike and pickerel primarily are day feeders. Other fish, particularly walleye and perch, continue to feed into the night. Largemouth and smallmouth bass also are a possibility, but they’re more difficult to catch and are sluggish in winter. The bass only seem to bite if the bait hits them on the head!

If you’re not sure where to start fishing, ask around. Local tackle shops near fishable waters can supply helpful hints. Or just take a quick survey of your favorite waterway. If there are plenty of other hardy souls such as you out there, then it’s a safe bet the action is good.

After choosing a likely location, pull up a sled or bucket to sit on, light your camping lantern for extra warmth, pour a cup of hot coffee — and enjoy. And bring the family. It’s a fun outing in the great outdoors.

For a fine selection of ice fishing gear, click here.

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