When the winter season arrives, northern anglers watch the lakes carefully and with much anticipation. They know that as soon as the ice is thick enough to be safe, they can stake their claim and set up their ice fishing shelters. These temporary shanty towns are great indicators of good times, good fun, and great fishing.
In Part 1, we discussed safety tips and the basics of ice fishing including making a hole and clearing the hole. Now, we follow up with more on the basics of ice fishing, concentrating on ice fishing equipment, shelter, and apparel.
Prepare to Face the Elements
The colder temps and biting winds can make ice fishing a difficult activity to enjoy. However, with portable ice fishing shelters readily available at most sporting goods stores, setting up a ready-made shelter is quick and easy. In areas where ice-fishing season can last for many months, anglers may opt to build more elaborate, but moveable, models. These “shanties” may have insulated walls and propane heaters that not only keep you warm and cozy, but also help keep your fishing hole from freezing.
On days when the weather is less harsh, you may see anglers on the ice sitting on a folding stool or an over-turned 5-gallon bucket. These buckets are an efficient tool. Not only can you use it to sit on but also to carry rods, lures, and baits.
With or without a shelter, anglers, who go out on the ice, must dress appropriately for the weather conditions. Dressing in layers will let them remove or add layers as the temperature changes. Anglers should consider wearing a layer of thermal clothing next to their skin that will wick away any moisture from the body thus keeping them warmer. An outer layer of wind-breaking fabric will help insulate them even more. Waterproof boots are an absolute must and need to be paired with moisture wicking socks under wool socks to ensure the anglers’ feet stay warm and dry.
Ice fishing equipment can be divided into three basic categories: hook- and- line, tip-ups and spears.
Hook- and- line anglers use short limber rods with reels or spring-tension spools to hold the line. They may also use bobbers just as they would if they were fishing in the summer. The most common species hook-and- line anglers are looking for are panfish – bluegill, sunfish, perch, and crappie.
Ice fisherman may use live bait, artificial lures, or both to catch different species of fish. The bait can be fished without movement or jigging can be used to attract the fish. They begin by fishing near the bottom and work their way up until they locate the fish. Using a bobber will help to mark the preferred depth. In order to catch bigger fish, anglers use heavier gear with larger lures or bigger hooks, allowing them to use large baits such as minnows, smelt, and salmon eggs.
Tip-ups are devices set on the ice above the hole that dangle bait beneath them. Small reels submerged underneath the water will turn when a fish takes the bait. This turning motion release not only line, but a flag attached to the reel. The flag’s “tip up” action alerts the angler to the fish taking out line. Tips ups are usually spooled with heavy braided line. Anglers will often fish with a rod in one hole and a tip-up in another hole, increasing their chances and providing an opportunity to fish for a different species or more than one fish in the proximity. Tip ups are used to catch larger game fish such as walleye, northern pike and various species of trout.
Spear fishing or spearing is a more traditional sport that utilizes a weighty seven foot handle with five to nine tines on the end. Spear fishermen cut larger holes in the ice using an ice saw or chain saw. Because they fish from tents or another form of shelter, light is blocked allowing them to see more clearly in the water. This is sometimes called darkhouse fishing. Decoys or large live bait, are dangled in the water to attract their target fish. Spear fishermen typically target lake sturgeon, muskellunge and northern pike, and many other species. There are many restrictions around spear fishing so be mindful and find out what is permitted in your area.
Regardless of the method you choose, it is important to remember that fish move around less in the winter and are more sluggish, especially when the ice is thickest, and the snow cover is heaviest. Typically you will have the most success with any of the three ice fishing methods from dawn until mid-morning and then again from late afternoon until sundown. The more holes an angler cuts and tries, the better the chances to find an active fish. To help improve your chances, utilize an electronic fish finder. This will help you locate the fish and make it easier to determine how active your holes may be and how the fish are reacting to your fishing method.
An ice fisherman will tell you the arrival of winter weather and colder temps is reason for celebration. The season invites them to get out there, set up their shanty, cut a hole in the ice, and sit and relax. At the very least, the arctic angler will gain another story or two on how the big one got away.
Stay safe and warm out there!