No need to stay inside
during the long winter months waiting for the sun to come out
dreaming about open water and summer fun. Be adventurous, bundle
up, get outside and try fishing in a whole new way--through the
ice! Ice fishing action can be fast and furious when winter seals
the lakes under ice. Best of all, there are no mosquitoes or flies
to "bug" you.
Imagine this. You
bundle up and walk out onto a frozen lake on a clear and crisp
winter day with your sled full of fishing gear and the fishing
license in your pocket. Once you find the perfect fishing spot,
you drill a large hole completely through the ice until you can
see open water. Then, you get out the ice chisel to widen your
hole. Now, you unpack your sled and find your special lures,
jigging rods or tip-ups to catch the fish. You will probably want
to get out your portable seat to sit on so that you can look down
the hole to see what's happening. Then, you grab the skimmer to
keep the hole clear of the ice and slush that forms during the
day. Once your line is set, you'll need to keep a close eye on it
or watch for the flag on the tip-up to see if you've caught a
fish. When your hands get cold, you grab for the thermos of hot
chocolate you brought along, mmmm, just what you need to warm up.
You end up eating fish for lunch out on the ice, cooked on the
small stove you brought along. What a great day of fishing!
Believe it or not, winter fishing
makes up a good percentage of fish caught during the year. People
enjoy it for the solitude of being out on a frozen lake or river
and the challenge of the sport. Others like the friendship and
good times found in an ice shanty town atmosphere with friends and
family. Why not try ice fishing and open your senses to an
exciting winter event.
You must carry your
license with you when you're fishin', summer or winter. Be sure to
get a copy of the current State Fishing Regulations to find out
about restrictions, special regulations, new changes and general
statewide regulations. It is your best guide to staying within the
law and having the most fun out on the ice! Look below to find
information to help you get ready for your ice fishing adventure.
Who's Hot and
Stay on top of It!
Keep Your Bearings On the Ice
Tools of the Trade
Ice Fishing Tackle
Recycle Fish With Catch and Release
Who's Hot and
The object of choosing
clothes for ice fishing is to dress to stay warm in any type of
weather. The old saying goes "You can always peel off layers
if you're too hot, but you can't add them if you don't have
them." This means dress in layers, and lots of them! This is
the same type of clothing you'd wear to a late season Montana
Grizzly game in Missoula.
Here are some of the
basics for any winter sport. Start with the layer closest to the
skin. This is where you want to be sure to stay dry. Believe it or
not, just a slight bit of perspiration (sweat) can make you cold
down to the bone and could lead to frostbite or hypothermia. Wear
an under-layer of moisture-wicking material such as polypropylene,
including a shirt, pants, socks, and mitten liners. This is better
than cotton if you have a choice, but cotton can also be worn. Be
aware that cotton may get wet and stay wet, so try to stay as dry
as possible and wear layers. A good tip for staying dry is also to
wear your boots or overshoes loosely tied until arriving at your
site. If you get hot along the way, be sure to unzip your jacket
to let out some of the heat or even take off a layer. You could
also carry a few extra pairs of dry felt boot liners, moisture
wicking socks, and mitten liners. Moisture or sweat can make you
very cold when the wind begins to blow.
The next layer is the
warmth layer and wool is a great fabric for this. It keeps you
warm when dry and damp! Fleece is also a popular warmth layer as
well as down jackets. Wool is great for hats and mittens as long
as they have a protective windbreaker fabric on the inside or
outside. A face mask or neck warmer may be the ticket in windy
weather. Also, be sure your hat has generous ear flaps to cover
your entire ears if the wind gets a howlin'. A one-piece insulated
coverall is ideal for this sport, especially if it has a hood that
can be left open or pulled tight around the face and neck.
The final layer is the
windbreaker. Leather can protect against the wind, but it can
stiffen and crack in extreme cold temperatures. Down jackets are
nice since they often provide a windbreaking shell on the outside.
If you choose to wear wool or fleece as a warmth layer, be sure
and top it off with a rip-stop nylon windbreaker shell. The wind
can cut through even the warmest wool sweater or jacket when
you're out on the lake. Goggles tucked in a pocket can also help
protect you against the blustery wind.
Your feet take the
most beating since they are on the ice and snow for hours at a
time. Pack boots usually do the trick and offer several layers of
insulation as well as a protective rubber layer to keep you dry.
Avoid soft-sided hiking boots or street shoes that can get wet and
let the wind through. Waterproof and well insulated winter boots
are the best footwear for ice fishing.
Ice shanties are small
shelters which can help keep you out of the wind and blowing snow
as you fish. Shanties are made of wood or plastic and can be
rented from many sport fishing outlets or can be made at home.
Typically, they are about 6 feet by 6 feet with a bench for two,
and tall enough for you to stand. Portable canvas shelters also
make for a protected area for fishing for long periods of time and
they can be set up at a moments notice if the weather turns bad.
Inside, some anglers
use stoves and heaters to keep warm. Others use small burners
outside on the ice to warm their hands or to keep them warm as
they sit to fish. As always, use caution with any heater.
Sometimes shanties can be left on the lake most of the winter and
people group together in a "shanty town." Late in the
season, portable shelters can be used but they must be removed
daily. Be sure and check your current fishing regulations for ice
around can help you keep warm. Bring your ice skates and glide
around the ice while you watch your tip-ups. A well-insulated jug
of hot chocolate or soup is always a great treat out on the ice
and it will keep you energized to stay out if the fish are really
on Top of It!
You don't want to be
walking on "thin ice" with this sport! A safe rule of
thumb is to be sure the ice is at least 4 inches thick. Be sure
and check ice conditions before heading out and follow a path if
there is one. Because ice thickness can vary across an area, check
more than one spot. In spring, "rotten" ice, no matter
how reliable it looks under that fluffy snow, can give way easily.
When on a snowmobile, be sure the ice is thicker than 4 inches and
use the trails already made. Watch out for holes in the ice or
open water. Remember this rule of thumb:
blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky."
Your Bearings On the Ice
On a large lake you
can lose your sense of direction if you get caught in the dark, or
if the weather should turn nasty. Some anglers have a compass
strapped right to their arm where it's visible or one in an
accessible outside pocket. These anglers take a compass reading
(bearing) of their intended route before leaving shore. If a
blizzard or a "white out" should hit, they can follow
their compass in the reverse direction to get back to shore
quickly. It wouldn't hurt to take a bearing from your fishing hole
back to a visible landmark as well. Careful planning begins with
checking the weather report and getting back to safety before
of the Trade
- Bring a copy of the State Fishing Regulations pamphlet with you
to consult during your fishing trip so that you are fishing within
the state laws.
Toboggan or sled
- This is a practical way to haul equipment onto the ice. Some
anglers put their gear on top of their shanty, which is
transported on runners.
Ice auger -
This tool is for drilling your fishing hole in the ice. The hole
should be no more than 12 inches across.
Skimmer - This
handy tool is needed to scoop out slush or chips from your fishing
hole. It looks like a long-handled soup ladle, with a shallow,
Ice chisel -
Called "spuds," ice chisels are used for chopping holes
early in the ice fishing season when the ice is thinner. Be sure
to secure these thin, but hefty, poles with a line tied to your
arm. Many spuds have slipped from angler's grasp and plummeted to
the bottom of a lake.
Bait bucket -
Holds live bait such as minnows.
Spud - an ice
chisel. (See ice chisel for description)
Gaff hook - A
special-purpose, large and heavy hook to help hoist a slippery
fish through a hole in the ice.
Something to sit on such as a small stool or folding chair,
sometimes even a 5-gallon bucket.
Dip net - Used
to dip into minnow buckets to retrieve bait and keep hands dry.
- A tool like a needlenose pliers to help you get the hook out of
the fish's mouth.
Jigging rod -
Light and flexible rods used mostly for panfish (bluegills) and
walleye. A short, firmer rod is better for perch.
Tip-up - A
clever device that signals when a fish hits on your line. A flag
"tips up" when the fish strikes and gives you the
freedom to leave the fishing hole for a moment.
Hooks - Small
number 10 or 12 hooks are recommended for panfish. Short shank
number 3 hooks are good for walleye. Northern pike go for large
number 2/0 to 6/0 hooks. Swedish hooks, also called pike hooks,
are used for northern pike.
Lures - Ice
flies and teardrop lures with live bait are recommended for
Jigs - Many
types of fish can be caught on minnow imitation jigs.
Line - Light
monofilament (a thin plastic length of string), 2 to 4-pound test
(breaking strength), is all you need for panfish. Game fish
require at least 10-pound test.
Leaders - A
leader is a short wire that the hook is attached to. The fishing
line is then tied to the other end of the leader. For walleye,
take 2 or 3 monofilament leaders, at least 12-pound test (breaking
strength) and about 3 feet long. For browns, northern pike or lake
trout, 2 or 3 wire leaders, and about 15-pound test will do the
job, but in most waters, 8-pound test should be enough.
Recycle Fish with
Catch and Release
Fish can be recycled
when you practice catch and release fishing. All fish below the
legal minimum length limit must be released. Others that you don't
want to keep can also be released. This type of recycling helps to
keep the population and natural reproduction of a fish species at
a high level in a lake and allows a fish the chance to grow to be
an adult. Research shows that lakes need larger-sized fish to keep
a balanced population. These strong, fast-growing fish have
survived the early years when most fish die from natural causes.
These fish are the primary spawners and major predators.
A fish's body slows
down a lot in the winter and reduces its need for oxygen. This
helps make catch and release easy! Remember to handle the fish
quickly and gently; do not squeeze the fish. Use a needlenose
pliers to remove a lip hook. If the fish has swallowed the hook,
cut the line and it will dissolve inside the fish in a short time.
Ease the fish back into the water, don't throw it. Next time you
catch that big one, you'll be glad you recycled others!