Howard Delo

The lakes are starting to freeze over, and the nighttime temperatures are in the 20’s. We have a skiff of snow on the ground with the promise of more to come. It’s time to start preparing for ice fishing season and, while it’s still early, you can begin thinking about some considerations for a fun trip.

Every year, you’ll read about vehicles which went through the ice because the drivers were out too early, or the vehicles were driven over ice with underwater springs. Safety needs to be your first consideration. I won’t walk out on the ice until I can confirm a solid, six-inch depth of “black” ice. If I’m planning to take my four-wheeler or snowmachine, I’ll wait until the ice is a foot thick. I won’t consider taking my truck out until the ice is at least 18-inches thick.

Once you’re on the ice, avoid any areas where springs might be bubbling up or where creeks may be running into or out of the lake. Calling various government agencies can provide some ice thickness information. Checking with the various local sport fishing equipment stores might get you better and more up-to-date information.

Some folks wear clothing specifically designed for icefishing. These garments often have floatation built in. Other folks wear a personal floatation device, like inflatable suspenders, over their jacket or parka in the rare event they break through the ice. A gadget handy to have on your person is a set of ‘ice picks” which are used to pull yourself back onto the ice if you break through. A set of ice cleats on your waterproof and insulated boots is also wise. Be sure to wear a warm hat and gloves too.

Equipment needs can be simple or complex, depending on how committed you are to the sport. First, you need to open a hole through the ice. A hand auger works fine if the ice is a foot or less thick. A power auger makes short work of drilling through any ice thickness up to four feet or so. An ice chisel also works but requires extra effort in thicker ice.

A “ladle” makes removing floating ice in the hole easy. A short fishing pole with reel and line designed for icefishing is your main fishing equipment. A small jig tipped with a piece of shrimp or a fish egg under a bobber works well.

Most folks target stocked salmon, trout, or Dolly Varden. Northern pike are also available but require some heavier gear, including wire leaders to prevent the pike’s teeth from severing the line. Burbot, whitefish, and lake trout are also available. Buy a good icefishing book or go online and read up on techniques and equipment needs.

You’ll need a sled to pull your gear out on the ice. Most of your stuff, except the auger and chisel, will fit in a five-gallon bucket which, when turned upside down, makes a good seat while fishing. If it’s a chilly day or the wind is blowing, you’ll wish you had a propane heater and a shelter to block the wind and warm up in.

I prefer to bring an assortment of rods and reels with different lines, a good assortment of jigs and lures, several pre-tied leaders with bait hooks, and some bobbers and split shot for weights. I’ll bring a chisel, a power auger, a small shovel (to clear snow from around the hole), and a ladle. I have a folding chair which is perfect as a fishing seat, and I have recently purchased a collapsible fishing shelter I can either fish in or use as shelter from the weather.

Now that you have the basic gear, where can you go to fish? Most folks fish the ninety-some stocked lakes in the Valley. Others like to fish some of the local unstocked likes, like Big Lake, because of their accessibility. If you have never gone icefishing but would like to learn, go with someone who has ice fished. Visit a couple of the sport fishing equipment dealers and ask for help getting started. Check out Fish and Game’s Sport Fish Division website. They have posted a lot of icefishing information, and you can access bathymetric maps of all the stocked lakes and several unstocked lakes in the area.

Make sure you have reviewed the current regulations regarding seasons, bag limits, legal species, and any specific regulations for the body of water you plan to fish. I’ve been checked more while icefishing than any other time of year.

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