Standing on the bank of a frozen lake and looking out over the barren ice as the sun meekly makes an entrance, peeking through the trees on the mountain top. The gentle wind making small wisps of snow dance silently across the hard water. This is the scene I get to see each time I go ice fishing. I stand and silently take in the sight as described and know that it will be a good day of fishing. I feel excited about spending a day of ice fishing with good friends as I take that first step onto the slippery surface of my opponent’s homeland. The fish know we are there. They can hear us walking on their roof. They can see the shadows cast by us as we cross the ice to begin our ice fishing adventure.
How would you like to have a great day like this ice fishing with friends or family? You can, but there are a few things you need in preparation in order to make your day as complete and as comfortable and obviously successful as can be. Here’s what you need to begin a day on the hard water.
Clothing: The first thing you are going to need to make sure that you can spend the maximum amount of time out on the ice is clothing. Sure you know how to dress, but dressing for a day on ice is a little different than dressing to go outside to shovel some snow. When dressing for a day of ice fishing you need to use one word as a guide, layers. Dressing in layers will allow you stay warm as the heat of your body will be trapped between the layers of your clothing, but if you get too warm as the day heats up, you will be able to remove layers thereby preventing yourself from sweating. Sweating is not something that you want to do while out on the ice because as the sweat evaporates it will chill you, making for a miserable time. Put on some nice wooly socks before you put your long johns on. This way your long johns will hold your socks up, preventing them from falling into your insulated winter boots. A warm pair of pants will complete the lower half. As for your top, wear your long john tops and a fleece layer. Finally, your outer layer should be both wind and waterproof. Snow pants and a good winter coat will suffice. Complete your ice fishing ensemble with a warm hat and mittens and you’re ready.
Auger or Chisel: You will need some way of getting through the ice, either with a hand or power auger which is basically a drill designed to cut 6 – 10 inch holes or you can use an ice chisel to chop a hole or to re-open holes made by someone else.
Skimmer: Inevitably, when you drill holes in the ice, there will be snow and chips left in the hole. You need some way to clean the hole out so that you have open water in which to drop your line. You do this with the help of a skimmer. A skimmer is a small scoop (kind of a slotted spoon with a long handle) used to remove slush and ice from your ice-fishing holes.
Ice Traps: Ice-fishing equipment has improved substantially over the last decade, and though the ice trap has changed materials and shapes, the overall ice trap design has remained the same. Ice traps can be tip-ups or tip-downs with the tip-ups being more popular and are usually spooled with braided line and has a 4 ft leader of 6 lb monofilament ice line. Tip-ups sit over the hole and the spool is submerged. There is a triggering system that when the fish takes out line a flag is deployed letting you know there is activity on your line. Once you have a flag up, you remove the tip-up from the hole and retrieve the line by hand.
Jigging Rod: Want a little extra excitement? Try using a jig rod. A jig rod looks like a regular spinning outfit only it is a short (2 to 3-foot) rod. Drop the line through the hole and use the up-and-down “jig” motion to give the bait or lure its action.
Sounder: A sounder is a weight with a clip that attaches to your hook or line that you drop into the hole. You let it sink to the bottom so you will know how deep the water is. Now, so you don’t have to re-sound after catching a fish or changing bait, use a button or small split sinker to mark your line.
Tackle Box: A small tackle box carries items you shouldn’t be without – lures, jigs, hooks, spare sounders, non-lead sinkers, spare leader line.
Bait: Live shiners and minnows are the baits of choice and both are sold in many locations but meal worms and maggots are also very good baits especially when fishing for sunfish or crappie. For shiners and minnows you will need a bait bucket and bait dipper. A bait dipper is a small net to retrieve the small bait fish from the cold water. You can also use an assortment of different jigs for your jigging rod.
Food: Bring some sandwiches, snacks and drinks. Fill a thermos with beef stew or mac-and-cheese, and another with hot cocoa, or if you feel like having a cooked meal, make sure to bring a camp stove.
Safety: Often ice thickness can change over short distances and you will need a few things to insure safety. Safety picks are worn through the sleeves of your coat and will allow you to grab onto the ice in the event you fall through. Also bring a first-aid kit, 25 feet of rope, fire starter and matches. Always bring some extra clothing and leave it in your vehicle so that you will have a warm change of clothes in case you get wet.
Comfort: Bring a folding lawn chair, a blanket, and maybe even some of those little instant-heat packets. Get some ice crampons or “creepers” to keep yourself from sliding while on the ice.
Transport: Finally, you need some sort of transport for moving equipment on and off the ice as well as to different locations throughout the day. A big plastic sled can haul your gear and it’s a good way to transport worn out children.
If you take the time to plan your adventure and make sure you are equipped properly then you will surely have a great day out on the ice.
Tight lines, the Amateur Angler