As all hardwater reelers — and most people who can read the phrase — know, ice fishing involves trying to haul fish out of water through a hole in a solid sheet of ice. This implies several things: (1) It’s cold enough the body of water’s surface has frozen to a depth of several inches; (2) because of the ice, you’re pretty much fishing “blind;” and (3) setting out several yards — or even miles — from the shoreline and onto a sheet of ice poses its own set of safety concerns.
So, if you’re bound and determined to punch a hole in the ice to pull out a perch or a pike and toss them into a snow pile, here are some things you might want to keep in mind.
You’re walking out onto a sheet of ice several inches thick. It may be covered in snow, or if it’s been a little warmer, it may be covered in slush or water. Dress appropriately. Layer up with a wind and waterproof outer layer — if you get warm, you can unzip or take it off a layer altogether.
Wear waterproof boots. Make sure they’re tall enough to make it dry through several feet of water. If you’re out on the ice, wet socks/feet are miserable. And they pretty much open the door for hypothermia.
Many — if not most — ice reelers use some sort of shelter on the ice to shield them from the wind that blows across frozen water. Some are as simple as lean-tos made from tent material, others look like park models with window boxes, wood stoves, and WGN on the flatscreen. Whatever you bring, consider a windscreen of some kind.
Wind creates another issue on snow-covered lakes: White-out conditions and drifting. If you’re not comfortably familiar with the body of water, bring a GPS and make sure you know where you are and where you drove/walked onto the ice. If driving, make sure you have a shovel, tow strap, and tire chains.
Making a Hole and Getting Fish Out of It
It would be a supreme rookie mistake if you headed out onto the ice without something to cut or drill through the ice. So, bring an auger, either manual or power. If you don’t have an auger or want to cut a bigger hole, a chainsaw will work. In a pinch, you can use an axe or a hatchet, which is neither very efficient nor very good for the tool.
Your gear and tackle should be designed for ice fishing. You’re not going to be casting, so you’ll want short rods. And, unless you’re specifically targeting big fish — like muskie, northern pike, or lake trout — you’ll probably want fairly light tackle.
Regardless of what kind of tackle or bait you’re using, fluorocarbon line will help to ensure that you don’t spook the fish. Ice changes the way light diffuses through water, and fluorocarbon line helps make it less visible to the fish.
Unless you know the water really well or go with a guide, bring a fish finder. That way you won’t sit on top of a spot and jig for fish that aren’t there.
Wind and weather can change ice conditions from day to day and hour to hour. Be sure to check the conditions of the ice you’re going to cross before you head out. Ice fishing alone isn’t a great idea, either. If you do decide to venture solo out onto the ice, let someone know what you’re doing and where you’re planning to fish. Peter Hoang, an ice reeler on Lake Simcoe in Ontario, recommends that you wear submersion suit, or at the very least, a PFD, if you head out alone. And always bring a sled to carry your gear or to cross dicey looking ice.
Besides, John and Tony from Get Bent TV say that ice fishing is more about sharing the experience than about the fish. Plus, the more the merrier — and the better the party. John and Tony recommend always inviting friends who can help out, like a pal with a grill or a four-wheeler. They get to fish and you get a ride and a burger. Just being a cooler of beer so it looks like you’re contributing, too.