The Ice Fishing Addiction
by Rebecca Vito
When people find out that my passion is fishing, they inevitably ask if I go ice fishing as well. “Of course!” I respond, not thinking about it, but there’s always some semblance of surprise on the other person’s face. At those times, I have to think back a few years and remember that there was a time when I thought ice fishing was crazy.
My first trip to the ice was a few winters ago over Christmas holidays. At that point my fishing experience was limited to a few days way back in my childhood and catching a fish held no appeal for me. I was told to dress warm but did not realize that long underwear under my jeans and a light sweater under my regular winter jacket were not going to be enough to keep me from freezing. I didn’t last too long on the ice that night. In fact, I raised quite a fuss and swore I would never do anything as silly as ice fishing ever again. How things change.
By the next year I was hooked on fishing. I had experienced the joy of bushwhacking along a river to find brook trout, the crazy fun of catching loads of crappie in the spring, and the adrenaline rush of reeling in a monster bass that made your arm tremble while holding it for a picture. As winter began to approach I realized that I could not wait many months to catch a fish again. I was going to have to ice fish.
Since then, a whole new world has opened up to me. Ice fishing is a completely different season than the open water one. It lets you get to places only accessible by boat at other times of the year, it requires different techniques to catch fish in the cold water, and provides an entirely different background in which to enjoy the sport of fishing.
Fishing through the ice allows you to stay on top of a school of fish better than any other method. I have had days where I only needed two or three holes in order to have non-stop action. I am a gear junkie so hitting the ice also means I can use completely different gear than I use during the rest of the year. Sunrise and sunset look more spectacular on cold winter day, and the beauty of the surroundings are enthralling enough to distract even the most steadfast angler when the fish aren’t biting.
Some days, no matter how well you dress, the wind will be howling and you’ll be frozen to the bone. But just when you start thinking it may be time to get your mental health checked, you’ll feel that ever so slight change in the tension of your line and set the hook into a fish that will get your adrenaline running as you reel it up to the hole. Ice fishing is an addiction, and those of us that do it take pleasure in battling the cold and the elements while other people hide on their couch, buried under blankets.
Like any type of fishing, getting started in ice fishing doesn’t have to cost you too much money. The most important thing is to dress appropriately. This does not mean you have to buy a $300 floater suit (although they are super warm and give peace-of-mind). Most anglers I see on the ice are wearing their regular winter jackets with a pair of snow pants. These will work perfectly if you remember to wear several layers underneath. After experimenting with several different items of clothing, I recommend wearing fleece as the top layer underneath your jacket and snow pants. Bring several pairs of gloves and hats, as well as multiple pairs of socks. Gloves will get wet as you fish and there’s nothing as nice as having a dry pair to switch to. Waterproof winter boots are best since they will keep your feet dry throughout the day.
As far as gear, there are many options. I have seen people on the ice using their regular fishing rods. If you go this route, use the shortest rod you have so it will keep you close to the hole. The best option is to invest $10 or $20 in an actual ice fishing rod. Many stores that sell sporting goods will carry cheap rod and reel combinations that will be perfect to get you started in ice fishing. If you’re going out with a friend for the first time and don’t want to invest in a rod, ask if you can borrow one. Most anglers have more gear than they can use in an outing and many are eager to share.
If you like using bait, pick up some minnows or whatever your preference is. If, like me, you prefer artificials, you absolutely cannot go wrong with a curly tail grub on a jig head. If you have lures that work when they are fished below the boat or below a bobber, then you have lures that will work for ice fishing.
You will need some way of putting a hole in the ice. The best bet here is to spend the money on a manual auger. However, there are some other options. If you are going with a friend, see if they have an auger and are willing to drill holes for you. If you are going with an outfitter/guide, they will more than likely drill holes. You can take the chance and try to find some previously drilled holes that have not frozen over and no one is using. You can also use a spud/ice chisel if the ice is not too thick. Also, ask another angler politely and they will probably drill you a couple of holes.
Don’t forget to buy a pair of ice picks that can be worn around your neck. These cost $10 and if you go through the ice they are the best way to ensure you can get back out. Read up on ice safety and remember that a minimum of 4-inches of clear blue ice is required for safe walking conditions.
I cannot imagine life without ice fishing. Every fall I find myself looking at the ice gear and wishing the water would hurry up and freeze over. At the beginning of each season I am extremely nervous about walking on the ice, but after a few outings I feel like I am home. Give me good, solid ice, a beautiful winter day, a little bit of snow fall, and a hot crappie bite - I couldn’t be happier. I love having a fun way to pass the winter.