Wow! What a great weekend of weather after battling the major snow storm and then the visit from the polar vortex.
The sunny thirty degree days never felt so warm. That combination of weather made it a perfect time to get out on the hard water for the first time and do a little ice fishing. Ice fishing can be a great way to get you out of the winter doldrums and start thinking spring. There was a lot of success around the area this past weekend from the pictures I saw on social media. If you have never ice fished and don’t have the gear, it really doesn’t take much to get started.
Ice fishing can be one of the easiest ways to catch a lot of fish in a hurry. It can also be very frustrating as well. The bottom line with ice fishing is that it is easy to learn how to do and any one can do it as long as you can stand the outside temperatures. If you dress appropriately and the catching action stays hot, your body will last longer than you would think sitting outside on the ice.
To get started, you need to get the right equipment. Your largest investment will be to purchase a quality ice auger. These guys can be expensive,but it is a purchase that will last a lifetime and will quickly pay for itself when you start cutting holes into the ice. Be sure to keep the blades sharp by touching them up occasionally with a sharpening stone. There is a big difference in the amount of effort that you need to exert in cutting a hole with a sharp auger versus a dull auger. A few swipes with a whetstone will keep that auger sharp and easy to use.
Next, you will need to put together an ice fishing rod. You can purchase these guys fairly cheap or to be quite honest, they are easy to make on your own. All you need to do is cut about two feet off the end of a very sensitive rod and attach the rod tip to a wood or cork handle. Attach a cheap or old fishing reel that you don’t use anymore and you are in business. You aren’t going to “play” the fish, so the quality of fishing reel is not important. In fact a cheap Zebco 202 will work great. I suggest that you carry two rigs at a time to increase your chances of success.
Fishing line will be the next item that you will need. You won’t need much, as your fishing will be all vertical, another words, no casting. I recommend that use the lightest line that you can get away with, preferably in the four to six pound category. Ice bobbers will also be needed and these are very inexpensive.
As far as lures and bait, I recommend using ice jigs (sometimes called ice flies) in the size 6-10 range. For the bodies of water in this area, I would go as small as you can. Ice jigs come in a range of colors and I have had my best luck with orange and chartreuse, but I am not convinced that it really matters. For bait, you have three choices: minnows, night crawlers, and wax worms (maggots). For a good all around bait that will attract panfish, bass, and catfish, I whole heartily recommend the wax worms. They just seem to work the best for ice fishing.
The last few things that I recommend you bring along is a cheap ice dipper to keep the holes free of ice, a thermos of your favorite hot drink, and a bucket to sit on. Now that you have your gear, it is time to head out. Be sure to dress warm so that you are comfortable. We also need to take a moment to talk about safety. There is a very serious risk with ice fishing. Do not venture out on bodies of water that are spring fed or have moving currents under the ice. These ponds and lakes are too risky. For your first time out on any body of water, drill a hole near the shore and check the thickness of the ice. I recommend having at least a depth of four inches of good ice to be sure of your safety.
Picking a place to fish is easy. I have had a lot of success catching catfish and bluegills at Knox Lake but I really prefer chasing fish on farm ponds, mainly for the reason that the fish are easier to find on smaller bodies of water. Wherever you decide to go, finding the fish will be your biggest challenge. You may need to cut several holes and try different areas before you find a school of fish. I would first try weed line edges, break lines on depth changes, and edges of the channels. Even in ice up conditions, fish are attracted to structure, so drilling holes near sunken trees, rock piles, and stumps will increase your odds.
Finding fish under the ice can be challenging at first, but once you find a school, the action can be furious. During this time of the year, the fish can be real finicky about the depth, so change your length of line frequently. I always like to cut two holes close to each other and set the jigs at different depths until I find the fish. It is always good to start near the bottom and work your way up until you get into some action.
Once you have found the fish, catching them can be very easy. Most panfish will travel in schools and when you find one fish you will usually catch a lot of them. Often the action can be so fierce that you can’t get the jig down to them fast enough. I believe the fight of the hooked fish attracts the attention of the other fish. As I said earlier, ice fishing can be feast or famine. Sometimes the action will all of a sudden just completely stop. When this occurs, one of two things is happening: either the school has moved on and it is time to cut a new hole, or a predator fish (like a bass) has moved into the area. Get ready and give the hole a few extra minutes in case the big fish decides to take the bait.
Remember, fish through the ice act a lot like “normal” fish. They are still affected by weather, changes in barometric pressure, and time of day. Fishing is always best when the ice is first formed and the action will dwindle as time goes on. If you are struggling with having any luck, you can try bobbing your jig up and down, pounding on the ice with your ice dipper (yes, this does work at times), or chumming. All of these tactics can attract fish to your hole.
As you head out for fishing on “hard water”, stay warm, be safe, and have fun. Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.