In some circles ice fishing is a true passion and almost a way of life! But for most ice fishermen I expect it is simply something to do until the regular fishing season comes about. It can certainly be enjoyable and gives you a great reason to get out of the house on a winter’s day.
In New England the preferred method is the simple tip-up ice fishing with a shiner as bait. Jigging rods and other methods are seldom seen. One of the interesting things about ice fishing is that it seems like mostly good sized fish are active and biting. I cannot remember ever seeing a “small” fish come through the ice. Often exceptionally large fish are caught. Ice fishing also is somewhat social as those hardy souls tend to bond out on the ice and are part of an eclectic sub-culture.
Ice Fishing Safety
The very first thing to keep in mind about ice fishing is always – SAFETY first – make sure the ice is SAFE! If you do fall into ice cold water it will definably cut into your fishing time and you don’t want that! Ice fishing safety is vital!
As with other types of fishing or camping you should make sure your gear is ready to go before you head out. Getting your equipment ready can be an enjoyable way to spend an early winter evening. Go over all your tip-ups and terminal tackle and make sure they are sound. It is a good idea to replace hooks, line, sinkers and leaders for the coming season. All states will have an allowable number of traps you can use and of course this number should never be exceeded. It is a good idea to carry along a extra tip-up or two in case one has a problem. Also make sure you already have you fishing license for the year as in some areas the fish and game wardens know to check for violators at ice fishing lakes. In our area the wardens have been seen as soon as January second!
Your power auger or ice chipper should be in good working order. The gasoline you use for your power auger shouldn’t be old, leftover gas from last year. Use fresh gas and also fuel stabilizer may be helpful. Your ice fishing sled should be equipped with extra hooks and sinkers, a sounding line and an ice scooper. Bringing a small towel will allow you to dry your hands if necessary. You want to keep as dry as possible in sub freezing temperatures. A thick, strong safety rope should be on board and hopefully never used. You may want to include a few non-fishing items such as a football, hockey sticks, Frisbee, binoculars, camera, etc. These may add to your fun, especially if you have kids along.
Flag up goes the yell! Now…….to run or not to run, that is the question!!! Often you will see ice fisherman sprint (and sometimes fall down) as they run to the tip-up flag that has flipped up. Usually of course it is the flag furthest away from you current location that goes up! Yet other times your will see some fishermen take their time in getting to the flag up trap. This may have something to do with experience and perhaps age. In either case you then need to assess the situation as to when to set the hook. While one person is attempting to land the fish another can be winding line back onto the spool so it doesn’t get frozen or tangled. A pair of needle nose pliers should always be carried, especially in pike and pickerel lakes, so that catch and release can be quick and efficient. Another good ice fishing tip is do not let your ice scoop fall down a hole! That sucks!
Upon returning home make sure you keep you fishing gear is put away somewhere it will not freeze. A basement or heated garage is ideal. You want your equipment to thaw out and dry so it is ready for next time!
More details about ice safety can be found on our ice safety page.