Into the Outdoors: Ice Fishing
By Chris Henderson
As we are all painfully aware, we have had some brutally cold weather. Therefore, it is time for a look at ice fishing, as January is usually the month for that. Since I have gotten older, my idea of going ice fishing one more time has lost a lot of its appeal. I always seem to find a reason not to do it. Perhaps the reason is that it can be so brutal, coupled with the fact that I never enjoyed it that much in the first place.
First of all, don’t forget to get your new fishing license. Of course, as a “geezer,” I don’t have to be concerned about this, as I have my lifetime license. Remember, unlike your hunting license, fishing licenses run out at the end of the calendar year. A few anglers get busted each year for this oversight.
Perhaps the most vital piece of gear in the ice angler’s arsenal is an auger. After all, you have to be able to make a hole in the ice before you can fish. Augers are available in hand-powered and gasoline models. Since even the hand models are on the expensive side, it’s a good idea for a beginner to rent an auger the first few times out. That way, you can decide if you like the sport enough to justify the expense of buying an auger of your own. Virtually every ice fishing lake has bait and tackle shops nearby that offer augers for rent. Be sure that the auger is sharp. As unlikely as it may seem, it’s next to impossible to drill a hole in the ice with a dull blade.
Here’s an important thing to remember when drilling holes. Try as hard as you can to keep from working up a sweat, which is very easy to do, especially with a dull auger. If you get sweaty, when you stop working, you will be very prone to getting thoroughly chilled, especially if there’s any wind at all.
There are two basic ice fishing techniques. One is the use of setlines. This involves using a device known as a tip-up, which is placed either beside or over the hole in the ice. A small reel holds the line. You simply lower your bait to the desired depth. When a fish hits, a spring-loaded flag pops up to alert the angler, who then brings the fish in handline style.
The other method involves the use of a very short jigging rod. This allows you more control over your bait and enables you to set the hook quickly if you get a bite. Actually, most successful ice anglers use a combination of the two techniques. This allows them to keep the maximum amount of bait in the water, and the jigging rod helps to prevent boredom.
Although theoretically, any species of fish can be caught through the ice, it’s rare to catch catfish, carp, and suckers. Panfish always was my personal favorite. They are plentiful, tasty, and will often provide a lot of action, which helps to take your mind off how miserable you probably are. Small minnows and grubs are good baits for panfish, as are small jigs. If you decide to go after larger fish, such as northern pike or walleyes, you must, of course, use larger baits, although it is still a good idea to keep them smaller than what you would use in warmer weather.
On some lakes, especially the Great Lakes, ice fishing is a real business. There are outfits that will rent you everything you need for your hardwater angling adventure, including a shed, heater, and auger. Often, they’ll even transport you to the fishing site by snowmobile. Many of the same people who operate boat charters in the summer rent sheds in the winter.
Ice fishing can be pretty rugged. In fact, to borrow an expression from the pro wrestlers, “brutality is the reality,” often applies in really cold weather. Of course, on the Great Lakes, with a guide, you fish in your shirtsleeves in a heated shanty.
Next week, I will describe my worst, of many, disastrous ice-fishing outings, and the reason I will never do it again. Stay tuned.