We’ve all seen them, the blue or red hut on the frozen lake usually at the crack of dawn. Guys (and Gals) with hand held augers, punching holes in the ice. If you’ve ever thought, “I could do that” but didn’t know where to start, then read on! Wicked Fishah would like to introduce you to the world of ice fishing.
Let’s start with the basic necessities. You’ll need a few items to get started in the world of hard water fishing. First and foremost, you can’t ice fish without cutting a hole in the ice. There are a couple of options here. The most basic option is what’s known as a “Spud Bar”. This is simply a heavy pole with a sharpened edge on one end. The idea is to chisel a hole in the ice. This can be a bit labor intensive, and will get your core body temperature up. If the ice is thick, you’ll work up a sweat. Up next is an auger. There are both hand powered and power augers available. A hand powered auger is a light weight handle operated option for travelling to the ice without carrying too much weight. A power auger is a gas, battery, or propane operated one. These are usually heavier augers but work well when the ice is thick. A sharp blade on whatever device you use is a must. There’s nothing worse than trying to cut a hole in the ice and finding that your blades are dull. Caution is suggested when cutting holes that you don’t hit rocks, drop the auger on the blades, or drag the auger on the blades.
Now, it’s time to catch some fish. When it comes to the business end of ice fishing, there are two options. The first is the good old Tip-ups or “traps” and the second option is jigging with a fishing pole. For this article, we’ll be demonstrating with Indian Hill Ice Traps. Indian Hills are made right here in MA by a dedicated team who are passionate about what they do. They use only American made hardware and even go so far as making sure the “Raw” materials used are from the U.S. The idea of a tip up is to suspend the bait below the trap. When a fish comes along and eats the bait, the spool holding the line spins. This triggers a flag to pop up, allowing the fisherman/woman to know when it’s hooked. Nothing gets the blood moving like seeing a “Flag up”!
The second type of ice fishing is “Jigging”. This requires the angler to use a short, ice fishing specific, rod with a jig. Sometimes these lure are used with small worms such as “Waxies” (wax worms) or “Spikes” (maggots) which are excellent attractants for small pan fish like perch or blue gills. There are larger lures used for bigger fish such as bass and pike. A “Jig Stick” is usually around 36” long and a medium light to medium heavy strength. Getting hooked up on a jigging pole can be an exciting event. Mixing the best of both worlds, Indian Hill has created a “Tip Up” the works with a jigging stick. This makes fishing and adventure as you get to fight the fish once it bites, but it takes the jigging aspect out of the picture. It is truly the best of both worlds!
Dressing for a day on the frozen lake or pond is of utmost importance. A good pair of Pac boots or Muck boots is probably the most important part of the picture. Nothing will get someone off the ice faster than cold or wet feet. From there, layering like you would for a day in the cold to keep warm is a must. Many ice anglers wear suits specifically made for ice fishing. Some even float should the unfortunate happen. For myself, I wear three under layers with canvas bibs and jacket for the outer layer. I use Under Armor cold weather gear one of my under layers. This allows flexibility with warmth and the Dickies outer layer will repel water and snow if you’re out in the poor weather. A good hat and gloves will round out your outfit, and you’ll be ready to go!
So now, you’ve made it out on the lake, drilled your holes, and set your traps. This is the hardest part of ice fishing. Hurry up and wait. If the fishing is slow, this is a good time to take a walk around and look for trash. I try and do this on every trip. Taking out trash that others may have left will keep the lake beautiful and enjoyable for the future of the sport. Or you could get a small fire going. Be sure and check local regulations if this is allowed. Not every lake and pond is completely public and local residents may not appreciate the mess left behind after a fire on the ice. If you’re a die-hard ice angler, a half barrel on legs makes a good fire pit. This is also a good time to have a snack. I travel with a small camp stove. I will usually cook up a package of bacon or a can of chili to keep warm. Remember, when you’re out in the cold, your body is working overtime to keep your core temp up. You must feed the “machine” or you’ll burn out. Not staying fed on the ice can ruin the experience and will certainly keep you from going again. But, be sure and keep an eye on your gear. If a flag pops up, and you’re not paying attention, you could miss the fish of a lifetime.
If the fish gods are cooperating, you’ll take a glance around and see a flag up! This can be one of the most exciting parts of the day. Whether you’re fishing with a tip up, or a pole, what happens next will be almost the same. As you approach the hole, take note of the line. If your line is screaming off the spool, there’s a scaly critter on the other end. I will carefully lift the tip up out of the hole while allowing the line to continue to feed off the spool. If a fish feels the tension, it may spit out the bait. I will then pull off some slack and set the trap down. I then hold the slack in my hand until the fish takes the line tight. Depending on what hooks you’re using, at this point you’ll set the hook. Usually a short jerk will be enough to get the hook embedded in the fish’s lip. Once it’s hooked, it’s a steady retrieve of hand over hand to bring the fish to the hole. If you’re using a pole, start reeling. Fight the fish like you would on the open water. Too much pull and you’ll lose the fish. Too little and you’ll lose it too. Keep a pair of long nose pliers handy. If you fish a lake like I do, that’s loaded with pickerel, you’ll thank me for it later. They have sharp teeth and getting bit in freezing temps is not an enjoyable experience.
I hope this short article has given you some insight into what it takes to ice fish. I know many anglers who stop fishing when the lakes freeze up. For me, this is not an option. I can’t fathom not fishing. It’s on my mind every day. If you’re as addicted to fishing as I am, and haven’t hit the ice yet, there’s still time. Be sure and check the conditions of the ice. Every year there are accidents. Most times it’s a result of not being safe. I’ve attached the ice fishing chart below as reference only. Use your best judgment when getting on the ice and be careful. Most importantly, have fun!!!
Tight Lines & Tread Lightly!