This article is going to be geared toward the ice fisherman with no knowledge to help you jump into it. To begin, if you aren’t geared for the cold you won’t even get a hook below the ice. I remember one ice fishing trip to a high mountain lake in Colorado that was rough. We took out before daylight and drug everything out on the ice. My buddy had a collapsible hut he was setting up. Before he could drive down the 1st stake a big mountain wind kicked up and he would of taken off across the lake but we all grabbed the sides while he was stuck inside.
In the meantime, unnoticed, our 5-gallon buckets with all of our gear had blown all the way across the lake. The only thing that saved them from being blown out of Colorado was a barbed wire fence on the other side of the lake. A little humorous-A company had given me a big sausage tray for Christmas. Scattered all the way across the lake were slices of sausage and frozen cherry tomatoes.
If you’re new to ice fishing then you probably won’t have a hut so take a 5-gallon bucket to carry your gear and a chair. Wear base layers, your warmest boots, gloves, etc. Take hand warmers.
I’ve never fallen through the ice but am always nervous about it. I carry all of my gear out in a sled, which can also be used to get someone out of a hole. It disperses your weight. Take a thick rope so you can throw it to someone. Tie a foot-long stick to the end so you can throw it out to them and they have something to grab.
P.S. When you throw it, don’t hit them in the head! Take a thermos of hot coffee and food to keep you warm.
WHERE TO FISH?
You don’t want to just randomly go out on a lake and drill a hole and set there all day. You don’t fish like that in your boat do you? When fishing in a boat or on foot you can easily move around. Not so with ice fishing, every time you move, you have to drill new holes. So do your research on the lake before you go and see where the hotspots are. Or, like all fishing, follow the crowds.
To begin, you probably don’t want to invest in a power auger so buy a decent hand auger but if you get into ice fishing, you’ll want a gas auger. Before drilling, kick all the snow away. You’ll want a dipper so you can dip out the crushed ice and also to keep the hole from freezing up. If you discover the ice is less than 4-inches thick — SCATTER!
One time on a little sandhills lake in Nebraska Mike Helzer, my pastor’s kid and I were slaughtering the fish. The only problem, the snow was melting on top and we were standing in slushy water. If we got a hit and all three of us ran to the hole the sheet of ice would start dropping down and water would run out of the hole. Not smart. That would be the time to leave!
For rods, you’ll want something short. There are the old tip-up rods and they also make miniature rod/reel combos for ice fishing. You need to get some actual ice fishing set-ups and not try to use your regular rods. They’re too long to function.
So what lures/bait do you use? Like all fishing it varies lake to lake and hour to hour but here are some popular set-ups. They make little ice fishing jigs that everyone uses. In the old days we’d hook on a wax worm and drop it down and fish it a foot off the bottom. Now I use regular earth worms. You can also jig little Kast masters.
To help prompt a bite and to help them find your jig use scents. I use Pautzke Fireballs. Fish don’t feed in the winter as much or as aggressively as they do in the summer so you need every help you can get.
Due to the cold-water fish will be slower moving so don’t work your jig as fast as normal. A lot of the fishing is on the bottom but still, you need to work the water column to determine where the school is. If you’ve ever fished high mountain lakes in the summer then you’ve noticed that trout cruise the bank in search of food, they almost look like a shark on patrol. So I picture them moving around like that under the ice.
Perch though, they’re a big-time schooling fish so you need to find a school. I’ve seen them in shallow water in the summer where if you drop your bait there will be 15 to 20 small ones hitting it. So I usually fish for perch down right off the bottom.
The good deal about ice fishing, you don’t have to worry about your catch spoiling, just throw them in a pile of snow as you catch them. They are being drug out of cold, crystal-clear water so they should be superb eating. Have fun and be safe out there.
Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.