My first exposure to the sport was watching the 1993 movie Grumpy Old Men, a story of two former childhood friends and next-door neighbors in Wabasha, Minnesota. The characters, played by Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau, share some family ties and a fierce love of ice fishing.
I grew up in suburban Virginia, where my out-of-doors winter play consisted of sledding, playing “Fox and Hound” and getting into snowball fights. Snow in the Mid-Atlantic states is wet. By the afternoon following a big snowstorm, the traffic has turned streets into a brownish-gray mire of mush. Winters were cold, but not frigid.
Area lakes did not often freeze hard enough to support much weight. Needless to say, ice fishing was not something we did.
This is not the case for Barb Carey, founder and president of WI Women Fish. Growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Barb went ice fishing with her dad on winter days. It was just part of life. As she started a family of her own, Barb busied herself with life, as we all do. Eventually, though, she returned to her ice fishing roots. After 10 to 15 years away from the sport, she noticed big changes in ice fishing gear and technology. Ice fishing had grown, in size and complexity.
For some, that might have been the end of the story. Not for Barb Carey. She began to notice the distinct lack of women in catalogs and magazines dedicated to the outdoors, and ice fishing in particular. It was as if women just didn’t fish, an idea that Barb knew to be wholly untrue.
With this in mind, Barb founded the Women Ice Angler Project, an event intended to create media content with women in the forefront. The idea is designed to raise awareness among the ice fishing companies, ice anglers, and the general public that women do indeed participate in the sport of ice fishing.
What began as a way to showcase women in the ice fishing world has become much more personal. The women who attend these events or become members of the organization are immediately “welcomed with open arms,” says Barb. They quickly connect, provide support and encouragement, and they create adventurous opportunities for one another.
The Women Ice Angler Project is now a forum for women to connect with like-minded individuals. Events such as an “Ice Fishing Class” and a “Weekend in a Sleeper Shack” can be found at wiwomenfish.com. These events draw women in from several states and Canada.
I can in no way diminish the importance of a grand adventure like a weekend on the ice with fellow women anglers, but I am equally thrilled that this project is a great community for women who might not have the means—in terms of time or money—to attend events like these. One award at last year’s fish camp was given to a woman who had never been to an event in person. She was named “Most Improved Boater” because, with the online help and support of women of the project, she worked all season to grow in her self-reliant boating skills.
Not only do women turn to the Women Ice Angler Project for support, they also come to the site with questions: “How do I winterize my boat?” “What type of jig rod should I use?” “How do I improve my chances for success?” “Where’s a great place to ice fish?”
The project provides a safe, supportive platform for women to ask these kinds of questions.
One big question many women who are about to take the plunge into ice fishing ask is, “What equipment do I need?”
When it comes to gearing up, Barb recommends that you connect with other women who are experienced in ice fishing. Experienced ice anglers know what works in terms of equipment and clothing.
And while some sporting gear is prohibitively expensive, it doesn’t have to be. If you are just beginning, you need a jig rod and a tip up. You can find these for $20 apiece. Some anglers want to upgrade their gear every year, so look for a big selection of used gear on the market.
Barb suggests that every angler have access to her own fish and depth indicator. This can be pricey, but it’s a critical piece of equipment that will help increase your chances of success. As a beginner, look for opportunities to borrow one; there are loaner programs available. The reason to have one for yourself is this: If you and your partner fish together and you only have one depth finder, one person gets to use it and the other feels left out. The sense of empowerment alone is worth finding a way to get this device in your hands. You deserve your own equipment.
Getting the proper clothing is another crucial aspect of preparing to go ice fishing. Gear that keeps you warm and dry is essential. You will need a pair of women’s boots. Barb’s boots have 2,000-gram Thinsulate insulation. That’s warm. For extra insulation, try a pair of women’s fleece liners.
Insist on clothing that fits you. Comfort is key: Don’t go for anything bulky. You will want a base layer that wicks away moisture, an insulating layer and a waterproof/windproof outer layer. Again, there may be no need to buy your clothing new. Keep your eyes out for good used options.
Above all, whether you are a lifelong ice angler or you are just looking to enter this cold realm, know that there are supportive, women-friendly resources to help guide you. From seeking out advice to planning a grand adventure, and everything in between, help is available. The current crowd of female ice anglers is ready to embrace you with a warm welcome.