Ice Fishing Essentials For Beginners
Like many people, I used to find the winter depressing, but then I tried ice fishing and other winter activities and learned to like the season. Going out in an ice fishing shelter with your friends and a heater is just as fun as going fishing on a boat in warm weather. You can catch many different kinds of fish in the winter, and you don't need to buy a lot of expensive gear.
I thought I only became sad in the winter because of the lack of sunlight, but there was more to it than that - I became unhappy in the winter because all of my fun and recreation was in the summer months. Winter should be fun for all ages, not only for kids.
If you think outside the box, there is a lot to do in the winter. Even if you don't ski or snowboard, or rarely do, you can do many other things. Think back to when you were a kid. Back then, winter was fun, and you might even have looked forward to it.
There was ice skating, sledding, snowball fights, as much to do as in warm weather. You can still go ice skating as an adult, and there are plenty of other winter activities, including ice fishing, for you to try.
What is Ice Fishing?
Ice fishing involves drilling a hole in a frozen lake and catching fish through the hole. It is most common in the Northern United States and Canada. People do it anywhere where you can easily find ice thick enough to safely walk on.
If you look it up, it says that ice fishing is more than 2000 years old. I don't know, but I would assume that ice fishing is actually much older than that.
Even several thousand years ago, some people must have been using ice fishing to find food. Alaskan ice fishing must always have been popular.
Today, new technology makes ice fishing easier than ever before. People use ice fishing rods, ice fishing line, portable shelters, and portable heaters.
You can also use electronics - you can check whether or not it will be cold or windy tomorrow using an app, and you can use GPS to find a good fishing spot or sonar to identify fish under your ice hole.
Is Winter Fishing Safe?
Obviously, cold water can be dangerous. For example, even not very cold water (55 degrees Fahrenheit) can kill some people if they are exposed to it for too long. Yet, people sometimes aren't careful around water that is close to freezing.
When I go ice fishing, my friends and I always take safety seriously and don't push our luck in any way. Sometimes we will find that the ice is thick enough, but notice that it has cracks - yikes! Cracks mean that the ice isn't safe, not even if it is more than thick enough.
The usual rule is that ice should be four inches thick. Don't break or even bend this rule - thin ice isn't safe to walk on! Be on the safe side and take the four-inch rule seriously.
Eight-inch ice is much stronger than four-inch ice, so strong that you can drive a light vehicle like an ATV onto it. You can even take cars and small trucks out on the ice if it is more than a foot thick.
Remember that the closer you go to the center of a lake, the thinner and more dangerous the ice is likely to be. The best ice is near the edges. You don't have to go very far from the shore to go ice fishing.
Won't You Get Too Cold?
Just because it is snowy out doesn't mean it is bitterly cold. Some cold winter days are warmer than others. I don't do any outdoor recreation when it is very far below freezing. Relatively warm days are much better.
You can also use an ice shelter to beat the cold. And dress warmly - you should wear winter pants and winter socks, not only a winter coat and gloves. If you want to get out of the house in the winter more often, get some thick, insulated winter pants.
Ice Fishing Gear
While you don't need to buy tons of expensive equipment, there are a few things you need and a few other things that can come in handy.
The first thing you need to bring is sufficiently warm clothing. You can ruin your ice fishing trip if you dress less warmly than you should.
Make sure that everything you wear is good enough for a long stay outside. Sometimes, when I head outside in a relatively light winter jacket, I am fine in the short run but get cold if I stay outside a little longer. And it's even worse if the temperature drops a little. Go with a full, heavy winter coat even if it doesn't feel all that cold out right away.
An ice auger is a large drill you use to cut through the ice and allow you and your friends to fish. An auger is pretty nearly an essential tool. While you can cut through the ice without an auger it is slower and less safe to do this. I would never try using a different method.
Ice Fishing Shelter
Ice fishing shelters are light, portable, and make your experience much better on colder days. You can get a large shelter that a few people can fit in. If there are more than a few of you, you might need more than one shelter and more than one hole.
While a shelter on its own can protect you from the cold wind and, to some extent, the cold, a heater is a good idea unless the weather is very mild. If you have both a tent and a good heater, even ice fishing at night can be fun.
Not everyone uses a sled - it depends on how many people are with you and how much gear you are bringing. If you would find it difficult to carry all of your gear, bring a sled with you. Any kind of a regular sled will work as long as it is big enough for your gear.
After you drill your ice fishing hole, there will be lots of ice floating in the water. You need an ice scoop (or anything that can be used as an ice scoop) to remove the chunks of ice first.
You can put a lot of your gear in a large bucket to make it easier to carry around. You can also use a large bucket as an extra chair, though bringing real folding chairs is a better idea.
Spud bars are a simple tool that can keep you safe. They are long and thin metal bars that you can use to tap the ice in front of you to see how sturdy it is. If the ice just a few steps in front of you is too thin, a spud bar will help you be able to tell.
Ice Fishing Rods
While you can go ice fishing with a regular fishing rod, I strongly recommend using an ice rod instead. Regular fishing rods are long, and that is a disadvantage when you are in a shelter and fishing through a hole. Ice fishing rods are usually around 28-36 inches long and work much better in winter conditions.
When fishing in the cold, bites are subtle, and you won't always notice them right away. You might notice that fish are more cautious in the winter and don't take the bait right away.
Some researchers have actually studied this with underwater cameras. The cold makes fish behave differently. They may look at your bait for a long time before biting it.
This means you need as much sensitivity as possible. If you use a short rod and go close to the hole, it is easy to catch fish. With regular rods, the sensitivity is too low, and some fish will swim away before you notice.
I have gone ice fishing with a regular rod before, and trust me; a short ice fishing rod is better. Some ice fishing rods are even designed to be gripped differently to maximize sensitivity.
Do You Need Ice Fishing Line?
You don't have to, but ice fishing line works better. Regular ice fishing line can freeze and perform poorly. Ice fishing line works better because it is designed to withstand the cold.
Ice fishing line is also thin, which is good because fish are more cautious in cold weather. The visibility needs to be as low as possible so that fish don't get spooked by your line.
There are many ways to keep your line from freezing when ice fishing. Some of the things I try are:
Fish with a shelter and a heater. If the air around your fishing line is relatively warm, this will prevent your gear from getting iced up.
Use fluorocarbon rather than monofilament line
Spray reel magic on your line to prevent ice from building up on it
Bring a spare reel. It's not usually necessary to use it, but if your line is badly frozen, you might need to switch to another reel.
Use a dry towel to dry off your ice fishing rod every time you pull it up.
More than anything else, the ticket to having fun when ice fishing is to stay warm. Check the weather report, and don't go on a very cold or windy day. Even if the weather is fairly mild, you should still dress warmly and bring an ice shelter and a heater in case it gets cold. Well, these are my tips that I felt every beginner should know.