I was on may way to Wisconsin in January last year because I was foolish enough to tell my good friends that I would love to learn about ice fishing. Since I live in Miami, Florida most of my local friends and family thought it was a bit foolish as well. But always up for a challenge and to learn new outdoor adventures I packed up pretty much every article of clothing I owned and headed north. I was told the ice was sufficiently thick enough to make fishing safe and I should get up there. I now pass onto you this information in the hopes that you can have as much fun as I actually did. Go figure!
Ice fishing is not only a thing you can do to get away from the phones and confusion of work for a bit but it in some areas is a social gathering place as well. The lake I was fishing near Eau Claire, Wisconsin was set up like a little community. Small structures known as ice shanty’s or ice huts were scattered around like tents in a camp ground with bunches of guys and gals making the rounds, spreading fishing news of the day, discussing the Green Bay Packers and sharing are shot of their favorite schnapps. Some of these ice huts were permanent requiring trucks or snowmobiles to move them while others were pop ups, and easily moved. One gentleman even had a bed and satellite television in his shanty! It should be noted that these huts are not place over just any spot on the frozen lake, but over areas that have produced fish in the spring and summer and marked with a GPS. For my initiation into this type of fishing I was forced to sit on a plastic bucket outside the hut.
The first thing I realized that very few of the techniques I use for offshore fishing would help me out here, as ice fishing is very specialized and requires special tackle and gear. The number one thing you need to ice fish is an ice auger or something to cut a hole in the ice. You can get a power auger or one that you work by hand, but the bottom line is you need to create a hole (or several holes) in the ice that are about 8-10 inches in diameter. Once the hole is drilled, have a skimmer ready (looks like a soup ladle with holes in it) as its frickin’ freezing out and you need to keep the hole from freezing over. There were several holes drilled and my buddies each would try different methods to try and figure out what the fish were hitting best on.
At first I thought they were joking with me when I was handed a very short rod only about a 2-3 feet long with only two guides on it, but this made sense to me as I looked at the hole I was fishing through, and there is no need to cast. Ice fishing rods are made of material that can handle the cold temperatures (such as composites). The ice fishing reels are suited to the types of fish we could catch and the pound test line used. Some reels may have a closed face to protect the line while others may be spinning or baitcasters. The type of reel depends largely on the type of fish and depth of water.
A gadget called a tip-up is an important device for ice fishing with live bait such as worms, waxies or minnows that suspends the bait at a preset level under the ice. When a fish strikes it triggers a trip bar that is basically a short pole with a flag on it that alerts the fisherman to the strike. It’s usually a bright colored flag so that an angler fishing several holes can spot the triggered tip-up at some distance.
These short rods are actually pretty good for using lures through the hole or colored jigs, often tipped with some bait (waxies, worms, minnows). This was my method as I sat on my bucket rod in hand, occasionally raising and lowering the rod tip to create action of the jig. I now prefer to use brightly colored lures and jigs, sometimes also using a glow in the dark hook made by a company called “Flirty Girty” as it seems to out produce others. When fishing in a dark and cold time of the year.
Small sonar systems called flashers are often used to locate fish or bottom structure much like I use in the ocean looking for wrecks, reefs and schools of fish. These units can detect fish instantly and even show your bait in relation to the fish when used properly. Even newer technologies such as underwater cameras are being used to scout fishing areas. Combine all this with the ability to pinpoint spots with your GPS and the newest maps and you have a major advantage of those ice fishing just a decade ago.
One of the things I like most about ice fishing is that when I am visiting my friends I can get out on the frozen lake at pretty much anytime of the day. A quick call to the local tackle shop and I can have a good idea of what types are fish are active and at what times of the day. I will dress according to how I will be fishing, inside a big ice shanty complete with heater, a small pop-up tent or sitting on my bucket freezing my gushy off. If you are by yourself, which is not always recommended when fishing the ice, you can get a plastic sled to pull all your gear. There are times of the year where you can drive across the ice as well. There are risks with ice fishing, falling through the ice is merely one of them. Proper ventilation in ice shacks and frostbite are just a few others.
So now you basically have enough information to get you started ice fishing. It’s a lot of fun if you are dressed for the cold, and prepared with the specialized gear needed for this type of fishing. Many of the fish you will catch you are already familiar with if you have fished that area previously. Whether it’s a social event such as a tailgate party on the ice or just to get out of the house in between football games, Ice Fishing is definitely worth the effort and preparation.