The only “bad news” is that the weather has to be pretty cold in order to have ice fishing.
With the advent of warmer, drier clothing, and modern equipment and shelters, women, children, and men are getting more chances to enjoy the outdoors in winter by ice fishing.
You can go simple — and carry your gear in a big bucket; or you can pull a sled with a lightweight shelter, equipment, and electronics. You can sit outdoors or fish from a warm, cozy ice shanty that may remain on the ice through the whole season.
A key caveat is that no ice, ANYWHERE, is EVER 100 per cent safe … so exercise caution and good sense whenever you go out. Some people wear some type of flotation gear and carry an ice pick/rope combo (inexpensive and available at bait shops), so if you do go through the ice, you can pull yourself out.
Layer your clothing, including thermal underwear, sweater, windbreaker, jacket, etc., that you can take off if you get warm.
– Wear warm, insulated, and possibly, waterproof, winter boots.
– Wear warm socks that wick moisture.
– Wear a good, insulated winter jacket with a hood — and a warm hat with ear flaps.
– Wind chill on lakes and rivers can freeze skin almost unnoticeably until it is too late — a 30-degree day on the ice with a 10 mile-per-hour wind can be very cold and freeze exposed flesh quickly — so keep a face-protecting mask handy.
– Wear warm, insulated snow pants — waterproof. Insulated jumpsuits with hoods are great because they keep the wind from blowing up your back — but not great for women because you have to take them nearly halfway off if you have to go to the bathroom.
– A light pair of gloves under insulated mittens is good.
– Wear sunglasses for brightness; and use lotion or sunscreen to protect your face from windburn, dryness, and even sunburn.
Depending on the ice conditions and circumstances, you may get to your fishing spots by foot, snowmobile, ATV, truck, or snowcat. If you walk, buy an inexpensive sled to pull behind you to carry your gear. On ‘glassy’ ice which can be might slippery, wear metal ‘shoe cleats’ for traction. In snowy conditions, snowshoes or cross-country skis help you go, and also help spread your weight over a wider area.
Ice fishing equipment can include ice auger, ice fishing rods, tip-ups, ice scoop, bait, hooks and jigs. Miscellaneous items are bait bucket, tackle box, fishing license, cellphone, flashlight or lantern, life preserver; and maybe a big ice cream bucket to turn upside down to sit on when you’re fishing, and to put your fish in to carry home when you’re done. Bring Water, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, bouillon — and snacks – essential for anyone to keep warm, and especially if there are children along.
So where are the fish and how do you catch them?
Basic rule: If you aren’t fishing where there are fish, you aren’t going to catch anything!
Drill several holes in a zigzag pattern, see which ones produce, and move if necessary until you find the fish.
Many ice anglers use sonar devices which you set right next to the hole, drop a cord from the unit into the water, and watch for passing fish that will trigger a ‘flash’ on the unit.
Normally, target weedy areas in depths ranging from 4 to 12 feet or so — but that can vary by lake. Your electronics, dropped into the hole will show you whether there are fish around and at what depth.
Check out where the locals have their ice shanties, or where you see other ice anglers congregating. Those are areas that probably produce all winter. Don’t “crowd” the locals or their areas. You’ll get more ice, i.e. their icy-steel glares if you do, but folks are usually very friendly and will try to help you.
For the best chances of fishing success, bring a variety of live bait that would include some smaller and larger minnows ranging in size from 1 to 4 inches; and a few dozen waxworms (small larvae) if you can find them. Some anglers prefer artificial lures, which is a question of taste.
For walleye and northern, you might use a tipup (type of ice fishing pole with a little flag that will flip up when a fish takes the bait if you let your pole sit out on the ice; or a small ice fishing pole if you’re in an ice shack, tipped with a large minnow (usually a fathead or sucker minnow). Fishing for walleye is best in the early morning or later afternoon into early evening. Northern will generally bite throughout the day.
If you want some beautiful, delicious, firm and healthy panfish (perch, bluegills and crappie), take out your small ice fishing rod, put on a small teardrop jig, and tip it with a small minnow or waxie. Jig the line and you’ll get some action. Size will vary greatly, but you can, and often will, get some real good-sized jumbo perch, bull bluegills or slab crappies.
Miscellaneous notes regarding ice fishing:
– The obvious! If you aren’t fishing where there are fish, you aren’t going to catch anything!
– Drill several holes in a zigzag pattern, see which ones produce, and move if necessary until you find the fish.
– Fish move slowly in cold temperatures, so it may take a while for a fish to find your bait, taste it, take it for a ride in their mouth, and, hopefully, get hooked, or let you hook them.
– What do you do when you have to go to the bathroom? Here’s some expert advice from Jim Bishop of the Wisconsin DNR (Department of Natural Resources), an outdoor recreation expert says, “Any human waste disposal should be planned. If you’re fishing where there are many lake shore homes, you may want to bring along a small tent and a five gallon bucket. Or you can walk to shore and drive to the nearest facility. On more remote sites, look for a place along the shoreline where there are no homes and away from and out of sight of other anglers. Use a zip-lock type plastic baggy and deposit the urine in that, adding any toilet paper. Zip up the baggy and place that in another baggy of similar or larger size. Carry it home and dispose of it. The zip lock bag system works for men and women. Persons embarrassed about carrying a bag of yellow waste back to the fishing area can also carry a brown paper or white plastic grocery bag to carry the urine bag. Also, commercial bottles for men and women for such situations are on the market at most outdoor recreation shops.”
– If you bring children along, Bishop gives some more expert advice: “We are seeing more and more young girls ice fishing, but if you bring younger kids along, make sure they have at least one tip up, and if their flag goes up, let them attend to it with your guidance. Make sure that kids have games to play when on the ice. A Frisbee, football, sled, ice skates, dog, etc. will keep them active and warm, but keep their activities away from other people’s tip ups. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate or sweet cider for them, and bring along some extra warm clothes in case they get all sweated up or wet while playing too intensely in the snow.”
A few final points: Consult a local bait shop or guide for the latest word about where the fish are, ice conditions, safety, etc. Be courteous and considerate of others. Hire a guide (man or woman!), so you can relax and have a ball fishing while someone else does all the work and worrying. Don’t worry if you don’t catch much because tomorrow is another day to enjoy the wonders of nature and the outdoors in winter.
And now … a few Upper Midwest areas for ice fishing fun
Northeastern Wisconsin (Eagle River, Wisconsin)
Try the Eagle River Chain of 28 lakes (the largest freshwater chain of lakes in the world), particularly Catfish and Cranberry Lakes. Easy access, lots of shanties for you to fish next to, and great action for smaller panfish with some nice northern and walleye in the mix. And… there are at least 1,200 other lakes in the area to try!!
For more information or Guide Services:
– Eagle River, Wisconsin, Chamber of Commerce; 800-359-6315; 715-479-6400; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.eagleriver.org
– Guide’s Choice Pro Shop in Eagle River, 715-477-2248; Rick Krueger, email@example.com
North central Wisconsin (Mosinee, Wisconsin)
You’ll find some absolutely spectacular-beyond-words success in this wonderful, and yet almost unused fishing and hunting venue in north central Wisconsin!
The magnificent Wisconsin River system flows through the area with impoundments and off-shoots that provide some beyond-belief fishing. Try Half Moon Lake in Mosinee (pronounced moe-zin-ee), where you’ll see ice shanties in a medium-sized bay near the Half Moon Bar. Great for walleye, and plate-sized bluegills and slab crappies. “The River,” as the locals call it, is a panoply of fishing opportunities right through the entire area. Lake Wausau (in the middle of the city of Wausau, Wisconsin), Lake duBay, the Eau Pleine Reservoir, and most any spot on The River will produce fish in large quantities and sizes — and you’ll see almost NO ONE on the ice, except a few savvy locals, because once on the ice, you’re instantly transformed into total pristine wilderness.
For more information or Guide Services: Hooksetters Fishing Services; Phil Schweik, phone: 715-693-5843; e -mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.hooksetters.biz
Eagle River, Wisconsin, out of Wild Eagle Lodge
Wild Eagle Lodge in Eagle River, Wisconsin, a pre-eminent northwoods resort located where Duck Lake and Lynx Lake converge on the Eagle River Chain of 28 Lakes (Largest Chain of Freshwater Lakes in the World), has a wide array of spectacular fun and money-saving packages for fishing (ice fishing and warm-season); quiet season getaways, snowmobiling, hunting, sweethearts; plus major area events including World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Annual Klondike Days, USA Adult Pond Hockey Championships, cross country ski or snowshoe getaways, and many others. (At Wild Eagle Lodge, you can choose packages with wine, roses, cheesecake, cross country skis, snowmobiles, fishing, massages, chocolates, sleigh rides, hunting, or a package designed from your own imagination)!
For more information or Guide Services: Wild Eagle Lodge, Eagle River, Wis.: Toll-Free: 877-945-3965; e-mail: Info@WildEagleLodge.com; web: www.wildeaglelodge.com
Naomi K. Shapiro, a member of Society for Professional Journalists, OWAA (Outdoor Writers Association of America), and field editor for a variety of media, “will do anything for fishing,” and has taken on the awful task of traveling the world to fish and write about it for a wide variety of media. cre8vads at cheqnet.net