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Ice Fishing is Fun! Brrrrreally!

Posted by Rutabaga Staff on 1/13/2013 to Fishing

Here in the Midwest we are blessed with plenty of lakes. We are also blessed (or cursed) with plenty of cold. When the cold really kicks in and all our aquatic playgrounds have frozen over, we are faced with choices. Without the paddling fun and friends of the summer, do we wither and die? Do we simply give in to laziness and while away the sun-starved days? Do we merely dream of fresh air and camaraderie? No way! We in the Midwest find other fun things to do. We ski. We snowboard. We snowshoe. But what if there is no snow and it’s colder than an Inuit icebox? Is all hope lost?

Let me paint you a picture. The wind howls. Your feet slip. In the sled behind you is not a small child, but a collection of gear that Rube Goldberg could put to good use. Across the frozen wasteland you can see small huts laid out before you. From small stovepipe chimneys, ribbons of smoke reach for the cloudy skies. Staggering across this frozen lake, you wonder whether you have been somehow transported back in time—until a snowmobile zips by. Then reality hits. You are not Nanuk of the North; you are in fact on the very same lake where you used to paddle, back when the water was still liquid. You are not here just to experience cold hands and feet. And although frostbite is fun, you are here for more than that too. You are here to reach that liquid hiding under all the ice, and when you do there will be fun. For in that water live prized specimens of tastiness: namely, fish.

Now, I will not pretend to be an ice-fishing expert. My favorite brand of the sport is fly-fishing, but I have had the chance to spend some time out on the ice. The lessons I learned can be summed up in one basic concept: Make sure you keep warm! Every time I stayed warm I had a good time, and every time I got cold I was miserable. To stay warm while ice fishing, you will need to dress appropriately. I start off with a good pair of long underwear (I like my Patagonia stuff, but others are good too). Then make sure to add another layer of breathable fleece or wool, which will insulate and allow moisture to escape. Generally speaking, the thicker this layer is, the warmer you will be. So don’t be skimpy! I like to wear a microfleece under a regular fleece. If it’s really cold I’ll add a poofy vest or jacket before my outer layer. Add to this a big warm hat, preferably one with earflaps and a plaid pattern, and you’re almost ready. The one thing you want to make sure of is that your feet stay warm, so your footwear choice is huge. My uncle wears those inflatable “Mickey Mouse” style air force surplus boots, which he loves. I wear big rubber and leather boots that do an alright job, but they are not the best. One thing I used to do as a kid was wear baggies over my feet. This vapor barrier trick works pretty well, if you don’t mind clammy, stinky feet. Don’t forget to wear something to keep your hands warm—mittens are the best, but ski gloves work as well.

As far as actual fishing gear goes, ice fishing can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. Basically, you need to address two questions:

a) How will I get through the ice?

b) How will I catch fish?

How hard it is to get through the ice depends mainly on one thing—the thickness of the ice. If you need to go through two feet of ice, it is going to take either a lot of work or the ability to procure a gas-powered auger. This is where the fishing buddy with all the gear comes in handy! One option I like, especially for its equal parts laziness and sneakiness, is to use other fishermen’s old holes. The beauty of this option is that you get keyed in to the good spots quickly, saving time and energy by avoiding the (w)hole problem. The only potential issue with this scheme is poaching holes drilled by an inexperienced angler. But hey, it’s not called “catching,” it’s called “fishing!”

As for the catching part…well, it’s mostly a live bait game. Stop by your local bait shop and find out what they’re biting on. All you really need is line and a hook, although a little rod and reel make things easier. For bigger fish like pike and muskie, many people use ‘tip-ups’ to detect strikes. As for the specifics of how everything works…read the instructions.

So get out of the house. Turn off the TV. Get your warm clothes on and enjoy our frozen midwestern wonderland.

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