Q: I thought fish were dormant during the winter. So why do people ice fish?
Keith – Commerce, MI
A: Not all fish go dormant in the winter. Some fish species, like trout, bluegill, perch and crappies, will happily bite despite the ice! There’s no reason to limit yourself to open-water fishing. With some gear and some know-how, you can sport fish or catch your dinner all year-long.
Whether you plan to cast a line your own ice-covered lake or angle in a favorite fishing spot in your area, you will need some basic equipment. Here’s a quick list of expert-recommended must-have items:
- Clothing: Water- and wind-resistant clothing is a necessity on the ice—particularly if you’re fishing in an area with biting winds and bitter cold. Make sure you have a warm hat, like a wool beanie, to cover your noggin, along with a warm parka with a hood. Dress in several thin layers, wear gloves, pull on some insulated rubber boots, and consider wearing some ice cleats to safely walk on the slippery stuff.
- Shelter/Windbreak: In addition to wearing the right type of clothing, a shelter or windbreak will keep those cold winds at bay. It doesn’t have to be complicated: a frame with plastic, canvas or cardboard will do just fine. But there are some pretty upscale options for those who want to ice fish in style (while watching the big game on satellite TV!).
- Hole-Drilling Tools: To get to the fish, you need a way to plow through the ice. Tools like a spud bar, or a pipe or a pole with a blade will allow you to cut through a 1-foot-thick sheet of ice. If you’re dealing with a thicker layer, consider investing in a 8-inch hand-driven or power auger with a spiral or spoon blade. It’ll slice through the ice like butter.
- Tackle and Bait: Of course, you’ll also need tackle and bait. The kind of fishing equipment you use will depend on the type of fish you’re hoping to hook. Choose accordingly.
With all your gear ready, the next step is to find the fish! As any angler will attest, this is an art in and of itself, particularly if you’ve never fished a particular lake before. A hydrographic map and portable depth finder can help you find fishes’ preferred hiding spots, and a fish finder or underwater camera can help you see them swimming about. So many gadgets, so little time …
If you plan to ice fish your own pond or lake, figure out where the game likes to congregate and plan to cast your line there. If you don’t have an established habitat yet, create one before the ice covers your pond by installing some Porcupine® Fish Attractor Spheres. When these 6-inch-diameter spheres are outfitted with 26 individual ½-inch PVC pipes, they create 5½ feet of coverage for fish to hide within—and a spot where you can successfully get a bite.
Safety is critical when ice fishing. As fun and relaxing as the sport may be, it can be dangerous when these basic safety tips aren’t followed:
- Ensure the ice is at least 3 to 6 inches thick to walk on, at least 7 inches thick to drive on with a car, and 10 inches thick to drive on with a truck. The thicker, the better!
- Avoid areas of cracked ice and listen carefully for loud booms or cracking sounds, which could indicate the ice is shifting.
- Never fish alone.
- If you bring pets or children with you, supervise them at all times and keep your dog on a leash.
- Have safety equipment, like a Life Ring or life vest, rope, blankets and a first aid kit, on hand in case of emergency.
- When you’re finished, mark or cover your hole with a branch to prevent anyone from stepping into your hole.
Pond Talk: If you ice fish, what’s your favorite part of the hobby?