Ice fishing is just catching fish in a river, lake, or pond, where the surface of the water is frozen, right? Wrong!
It is actually more than that as the process requires enough preparation, finding the right spot, acquiring proper gear, and most importantly, using the best fishing process. If this doesn’t sound intricate enough to scare you a little bit, then you must be in really good shape!
Maybe you have always wanted to try this adventurous activity but don’t know where to start. You are not sure what equipment you would need. Perhaps someone mentioned an angler who lost his life in the snow in a “fish digging” picnic. Now you are a bit nervous because something tells you ice fishing could be dangerous!
Don’t be! As long as you got the right gear, some safety equipment, and an adventurous spirit, you will be fine. We have prepared for you a comprehensive beginners’ guide on how to ice fish to help you catch those cold-blooded animals like a pro and have an enjoyable first time. So, let’s get to it!
1. Get Authorized
Before you decide on going out to get that fish from the ice, you need to acquire a fishing license. However, this will depend on where you live as different states have different laws and requirements when it comes to the conservation of marine species.
It is also important to familiarize yourself with these regulations to avoid penalties. Some fish species are size limited, others are catch and release only, while others are completely off-limits. Knowing how these laws operate will help you avoid problems with the authorities and have an amazing fishing experience.
Besides, if you are a little nervous or completely green in cold water fishing, it would be wise to take some course on the same before giving it a try. This will help you know the dos and don’ts of cold fishing and give you the confidence you need while out there.
2. Find A Fishing Spot
Lakes, ponds, and other large water bodies should have plenty of ice below the ice. The most popular species to look for are sunfish, pike, largemouth bass, yellow perch, crappie, trout, and walleye.
If this is your first time fishing in your chosen location, ask around to see if there is anyone who knows where these species could be swimming around. An online forum could also be a fantastic resource for nice ice fishing spots. Once you have found a location that interests you, inform someone about your trip and when they should expect you back.
3. Get The Right Gear
Whether your ice fishing adventure takes you to a river, pond, lake, or sea, you must gear up properly. Below are the must-haves:
If you are fishing more than one hole at the same time, a tip-up will be an important tool to make your work easier. Just attach bait and lower it to the depth of your liking. If you get hold of a fish, the device will tip up and let out some signal.
Just as the name suggests, a fish finder will help you figure out whether the spot is worth fishing or not. Apart from this, it marks the fish such that you will know if you should move the bait or leave it as it is. The best thing about a fish finder is that it can also be used inshore and kayak fishing, so you won’t have to get different equipment for this.
Ice fishing rods are much shorter than the usual fishing poles as you don’t need to cast. All you got to do is dip the line into the hole and that’s it.
Other tools you will need on this trip include:
- Fishing hooks
- Auger to drill a hole through the frozen water
- Scoop to remove the ice from the hole
- Bag to carry your gear
- Fishing chair for seating as the ground could be too cold to kneel
- Bucket of baits
4. Get A Buddy
So you just got into a fight with your spouse and you think the best way to run from the argument is to go out in the ice to fish, alone, as you get your head straight? Bad idea!
A frozen water body is not the place to get your mind in order, nor is it a place to meditate. If you have made up your mind to come here, you must have something important to do. So if you are not here to fish or slice the ice in your kayak, then it would be best to remain at home and resolve your dispute.
But whatever you do, don’t think of heading out to the ice water alone. Get a friend to go with you, for your safety. A lot of things could go wrong – you may have a nasty encounter with a bear, fall into the ice and break a limb, or even get sick. If any of these things happen and there is no one to call for help, you could be in great trouble.
A buddy will keep an eye on you and make you feel safe but it is also important to take all the necessary precautions to ensure that no harm comes to you. Start with the basics, for instance, and get a life jacket. You will also need to pack up your first aid kit. You really don’t want to abort your fishing mission just because of bleeding that could be stopped with simple first aid care and a Band-Aid.
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5. Dress For The Weather
Another obvious one. Keep yourself warm. Get clothing that generates heat so that you don’t get yourself freezing.
You may want to invest in a heated vest and a dry suit that prevents cold water from penetrating through your inner clothing to your skin. A nice pair of fishing gloves will also go a long way in keeping you warm.
Mind your feet too. Remember they will be standing on the ice all day so there is a higher possibility that they will be getting cold first. Get some waterproof winter boots. These right here, for instance, are super cute and will keep you warm all day.
Don’t forget to cover your head too. Trust us, the last thing you want is to ruin your adventure with an ice-cream headache, so covering your head is a must. Get something that is thick enough. A hat made out of fleece could be a good place to get started. Just make sure the hat of your drysuit covers it properly so that it doesn’t let snowy water in.
It would be wise to dress up in your warm attire before leaving the house because out there the weather may be too cold to have a change of cloth. But if you must carry your clothes to the fishing site, make sure to put them in a dry bag to keep them as dry as possible.
6. Prepare Your Fishing Site
So you are ready with the right attire for the day so what’s next? Get an ice hut! Frozen water fishing is a cold business – the warmer you keep yourself, the better. Just like a tent in the woods, an ice hut will be your shelter in the ice and will play a big role in protecting you from elements such as cold winds and sleet and keeping you warm.
This portable fishing cabin is usually made of lightweight material like plastic or metal and is easy to set up. Ice fishing cabins can stay on-site the entire winter but if you are just here for a few hours or probably a day, even a simple tarp will get the job done.
However, whether you will be staying for a day, a week, or even months it is important to know how much your ice shanty weighs before setting it up as this will go a long way in ensuring your safety. To be on the safe side, make sure that your fishing spot is thick enough to accommodate the weight of your hut.
Talking of ice thickness, this is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting your spot for the day. To determine the thickness of the ice around you, get your auger and tape measure. Using the auger, drill a hole through the ice until you get to the water underneath, and then measure the ice thickness with your tape measure. For your safety, the best fishing spot should be at least 4 inches ice thick.
If you are bringing your truck along, you may want to find a place whose ice is at east 15inches thick to accommodate its weight. Some people prefer setting up their ice huts next to their trucks so if you are one of them, your spot must be able to hold this much weight.
7. Drill Your Holes
You have found the right fishing spot and set up your ice hut, so it’s time to get to what actually brought you here – fishing!
Let’s start by making some holes in the ice. Here, you are going to use the augers, just as you did while checking the thickness of the ice.
Usually, there are three types of augers; hand, electric, and gas augers. In this article, we will mostly focus on the hand augers, as they are the most preferred by anglers due to their portability and ease of use. However, all augers serve a similar purpose, which is, drilling holes in the ice.
Hand augers are long poles that are screw-shaped and have two sharp blades at the tips. Always make sure that these blades are covered properly whenever this piece of gear is not in use.
To drill a hole through the ice, hold the handle of the auger with one hand and then grip the arm located on the side with your other hand. Using your shoulder and leg muscles while keeping your back straight, turn the auger to push it down. You will see shredded ice moving to the surface. If you had not brought your fishing cooler, you can scoop this ice into a bucket to preserve the fish you catch.
In most cases, you will only require an auger that is 6 to 8 inches long. Any auger longer than this might give you trouble while making holes in thicker ice. Once you have had a few holes drilled, you are ready to catch some fish!
8. Catch Your Fish
Just like you would fish in a stream or river, it is important to think about the kind of fish you want to take home. Some fish reside deeper below the ice than others do hence they may need more digging. Knowing exactly what you are after will help you determine the best spot for your angling and how deep you need to dig before catching the fish.
Deciding what you want to catch beforehand will also help you get the right bait and tackle for your species. Some fish species are lured faster by live baits while others work best on fake baits. The most popular live baits in cold water fishing include nightcrawlers, minnows, and leaches, while tackles include tip-ups, jigs, hooks, jigging rods, and ice flies.
Any tackle shop will have these. You can ask for advice from the staff on some of the baits and tackles that have worked best on your species of choice. However, most skilled anglers prefer using just minnows.
So you have your bait and fishing rods, it’s now time to get something that can hold these rods. When fishing from a kayak or canoe, finding a place to tie up your rod is simple but when it comes to cold water fishing, this gets a bit tricky. And if you have drilled multiple holes, you need to be sure you can manage them all. This is where a tip-up comes in!
A tip-up helps you keep track of the holes and alerts you when your fish falls for the bait. Most tip-ups will raise a flag to show you there is an activity taking place even from a far distance. Others even have displays to show you when the fish is getting away from the lure and other stats.
However, before you invest in a tip-up, it is important to check the rules stated in your fishing license. Some places don’t allow fishing in more than one hole at a time, so you may not need this tool. But if you are allowed to fish in multiple holes tip-ups will help you manage your angling, as you won’t have to keep walking from one hole to the other to check on the progress.
9. Reel Your Fish In
When your fish bites the bait, remove your line from the hole or reel the line in, pulling the fish along. Unhook it from the line and put it in a bucket for later cleaning.
You can dip the line in the same holes but if no fish bites after a few hours, move to another location and drill other holes. If this doesn’t seem to work, switch to live bait if this is not what you have been using all along.
If you have moved to a new location and used live baits but nothing seems to work, try changing your fishing times. Most fish species are active in the mornings and just after 3 p.m. Taking advantage of angling during these periods can improve your chances of catching more fish. Hey! It also leaves you enough time to perform various cold water sports.
10. Be Keen On Things
You should always watch your line. This starts from the moment it touches the water. Keep an eye on any movement regardless of how small or big it is. Whether the line tightens up, kinks, or moves from one side to the other, set the hook, as this could be a sign that a fish has just grabbed your bait.
Also, be keen on the weight of your rod so that you can know about any extra weight instantly. Experienced anglers can feel the fish strike and grab it before it realizes what is going on.
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Ice fishing is fun, as long as one follows the right process of angling in cold water. While it has more risks than ordinary fishing, if one takes proper safety precautions, it can leave an experience to remember. To get yourself started, obtain a fishing license, look for a good fishing spot, dress warm, and get the right gear.
With this guide, even first-timers will find catching fish in the ice less intimidating. Anyone can use the simple techniques laid out here to reel in fish and have a fun-filled adventure. Do we need to say more? Now grab that auger and hit the ice!