When I tell people I love ice fishing, they assume I am from Wisconsin, Michigan, or Canada, and are surprised all the times I went out on the ice; it was on top of lakes in New England. Like all hunting, ice fishing requires patients, but unlike deer or duck hunting, it is okay if you are not completely quiet with your line in the water.
Preparing Your Equipment
Ice fishing is all about preparation, the essentials are a rod and reel, tackle, and either an auger or an ice chisel. I have seen people chipping holes in the ice using axes, which is not recommended. If the ax has a short handle, you will have to get on your hands and knees to hit the ice, and when you break through ice water will splash you in the face. This why using an auger or an ice chisel is best and with a wide variety of options, it boils down to personal preference. If you are making multiple holes for searching with a fish finder, you may want to consider a gas-powered auger to save you some work.
In the essentials listed above, I left off a good ice skimmer for keeping the hole free of ice and freezing back up. Can you live without one? I can say I have, but it makes things a lot easier. Therefore, I would recommend bringing one, along with a toboggan to haul gear over carrying it. You will also want something to sit on, because it may be a while before you get a bite. I do not sweat luxury in the field and for the sake of saving space, I bring with me two 5 gallon buckets, because they fit inside each other. The extra bucket I turn upside down and use as a seat.
Ice Fishing Tips
Most people ice fishing have been around frozen lakes their entire lives, but if you have lived in a warm climate your entire life or have never seen snow before, bundle up. Remember you can always take layers off, but you cannot add them if you do not bring them and do not assume it will be warm inside a shelter, it rarely is. The other thing you need to do is look at the ice you are walking and remember this rule of thumb, “Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky.”
Catches vary depending on where you are fishing. Walleye, sauger, and northern pike are the typical catches in the US and Canada. Perch and eelpout are common and considered the most delicious, the later, found in the Lake of the Woods, is not a “pretty fish,” but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in flavor. Also in the famed lake shared by the US and Canadian is tullibee, a great fish to brine and smoke. If a trophy fish is what you want in the middle of winter you are in luck, trout and sumo-sized perch can be caught throughout all of North America. While I have not been ice fishing in Europe or Asia, the most popular fish over there is carp.
There is a misconception that ice fishing is just dropping a line in the water, having a few beers and waiting for a bite. While this is an option, you are less likely to land bigger fish. To catch larger perch and trout, the best lure is a sinking jig. Let it hit the bottom and slowly reel it back in, watch the water and see if anything is giving it a chase. If your lure is followed, let it sink back down and bring it up again, this time, be ready for the bite and possibly a little bit of a fight to.
As soon as the ice is four inches thick, you can safely head out on it and start cutting a hole. Ice fishing may not have the same rush as landing a sailfish on a charter boat in the Florida Keys but it is not about that. Ice fishing is a calm and tranquil way to hook a fish. It is as much about the good times with family and friends as it is about reeling in a delicious dinner or a trout to mount on the wall for the memories.