The avid sportswoman (me) got a little sentimental the other night thinking about all the times I went ice fishing the last couple years. Why sentimental? - two big reasons: (1) I haven't been ice fishing yet this winter (and I miss it terribly), and (2) I donít know anyone to ice fish with here my new home in Colorado (though Iíve been known to ice fish alone). Although Iím no couch potato, I admit to being glued to an office chair (as in work!) for 4 months now. Anyone want to drag me outta here into the great outdoors before I lose my mind? I am no longer allowing myself to work on Saturdays anymore, and as for Sundays, well as soon as the playoffs are over... P.S. bring your spud or nice auger since I donít have either!
Reminicing on ďWinter Ice FishingĒ
-Sheilaís new 1998 comments (in italics) on last yearís Ice Fishing Story
Why sit on the couch when you can be outside?
Another cold winter doesn't mean we northerners arenít prepared to deal with the elements, and have fun catching fish right below our very feet through the ice. It's great outdoor adventure!...(So what girl if you have this new business taking up all your sweet time. Just GET UP, put on those dozen layers of clothes, grab those little poles and GET GOING. The lake is just a couple miles away and thereís fish waiting for you to catch them! Help, I need help, and motivation, and someone to go with me the 1st time out! I canít just be this brave woman and go by myself can I? Will someone be out there to guide me? I don't know this ice like I did in Mich.)
Outdoor protection options:
1) Nothing - If the wind's not blowing and the sun is out, everything is just fine in the wide open. Who wants to sit in a shanty on nice sunny winter days? Bring a bucket or folding chair. Hey nice log over there - letís sit on that! (I remember going to a place where we walked over 2 miles one way to get to the ďBanana DikesĒ. Just carrying a simple bucket of minnows and couple other necessities to this far place would make my arms ache for days. I didnít care. Shanties were out of the question here. But the place - it was so great, 17ft. deep water, never a dull moment, just one fish after another.)
2) A Windbreak - Anything to block the wind while sitting there fishing on the ice. (This is a ďmust haveĒ that I ďdonít haveĒ here in Colorado. Itís very windy along the Colorado Front Range. Help, I need to think of something quick, but if need be Iíll go without anything as long as I can.)
3) Ice Shanty - the best protection on the real cold days - Buy one or make one. Hey they have these famous ice fishing places where you can rent shanties and live in them for like a week. We saw 100 or more of them at a place called Lake-of-the-Woods at the top of Minnesota. Just imagine living/camping/fishing 24 hours around the clock in a shanty in the middle of winter! Iíd probably think about trivial things like what kind of fish to eat for breakfast! (I used to have a lot of great friends back in Michigan that didnít mind if I used their shanties. I used by brotherís often until that one wind storm blew it miles away. Thatís me above in a picture with my brother Dennis and his son Kevin. One time my friend Gibby & I tried to drag Dennisí shanty out to the farthest spot we could go on Lake Erie and these 40mph winds blew us backwards on the ice. Making no progress, we settled for a closer spot and caught about 60 perch in that shanty in a couple hours.)
Cutting the holes in the ice, your options:
1) Use Holes Already Made - Why auger new holes if you find some left behind? Sometimes you just have to clear out the light ice on top. (This is the perfect solution for a girl like me that doesnít have anything to drill holes with now! This is my last resort to ice fishing this year if I canít find anyone to go with me that has an auger. I just donít think I can cut a hole with an auger - since I only weigh about 100 lbs.)
2) Spud Holes - The most basic tool for chopping a hole in the ice is the spud. Spud, spud, spud - I think thatís so manly and old-fashioned. (I think ďreal menĒ are guys who can spud! Although...you may want to read my comments under the next section...)
3) Augers - First there's the less expensive hand auger. It spins around and drills the hole. (I remember making my old boyfriend Gibby spud and drill holes for me everywhere. Heíd start getting worried when I wasnít catching fish - he knew Iíd be asking him to drill more new holes soon!) The ideal instrument for the well-equipped ice fisherman is the gas-powered auger. This, of course, is the only hole cutting option for all the guys who have snowmobiles and four-wheelers to lug great equipment with them out on the ice. (Special Note: Iíd be very impressed by a guyís brand-new gas auger, and his willingness to drill me holes wherever my heart desired. Yeah, youíre the guy I secretly want to meet. BUT, Iím still impressed by ďreal menĒ who spud too! Ok, how about a guy with all the toys that can spud. Any interest in making this girl some holes in the ice?)
How Many Holes? How far apart?
Rule one - how many rods allowed in your state per person? - thatís how many holes you want. One for each rod. (You guys all have dirty minds donít you! Thatís enough laughing please....Iím talking about fishing here.) In a shanty, drill them as far apart as you can but still fit under the shanty. A little measuring helps. If your holes are too close, the fish get tangling up with other lines. Oh well. When weíre out in the open, we spread them apart to cover some ground, but close enough to run back and forth to check the rods. Then when we find certain holes are doing better than others, we'll drill more in those good spots. Last tip, if you're not catching anything, MOVE to a new spot and try new holes. (OK men, I have this routine down pat. If we donít catch any fish for a long time, I guarantee you I will want to move. Then after 2 or 3 moves and no fish youíll be secretly hoping Iím getting really cold -because youíll be tired of drilling new holes- and youíll hope I want to get out of there and go somewhere inside, somewhere warm....and you know what - I WILL!!!)
Rods - There's little ice rods for as low as $6 that work pretty good for perch, bluegill and crappie. I like the kind that have a spring bobber on the rod tip. When that tip goes down, there's a fish on. But you'll need stronger rod & reel made for bigger fish like walleye. (I own cheap ones, it doesnít matter...just get me out there.)
Tipups - These contraptions are setup on a hole and have a little flag that pops up when a fish is on. Use them for the big fish like pike. (These are up-to-you tip-up guys. Iíve yet to experience the excitement of a big pike reeling out on a tipup, stopping, then spinning the perch around in its mouth and swallowing it. Get back baby - heís on now...bring him in. Iíd be like this excited kid jumping up-n-down and watching every second. How old are you Sheila?-really!)
Buckets - We use lots of buckets to carry equipment out and also sit on. Top them with a boat or hotseat cushion for extra comfort. Then after you've caught a pile of fish you got something to carry them home in too. (Girls use buckets for many things!)
Winter Tackle, Bait and Techniques:
Tackle - Small is beautiful when it comes to ice fishing lures. Just buy a compact little ice fishing tackle kit. It has a good assortment and fits in your pocket. (This stuff is so cool, itís just like my makeup, lipstick, kleenex and gum all jammed into those important pockets!)
Bait - Minnows or grubs for panfish. Minnows, suckers, or small perch for walleye and pike. Ask your local bait shop what's hot. (I guess I always go with minnows. This is terrible, but I donít even know where my local bait shop is!)
Special Techniques - Ice fishing is an ultra sensitive, light bite. In shallow water (4-5 ft.), a light even pull right out of the water works great. In deeper water, set the hook, and very gently reel in. The real trick is not knocking the fish off while bringing it up through the ice hole. Remember that. (I love it when the water is so clear I can get down on my knees and stare in the hole to see down to the bottom. I was doing this once, just in awe of the clarity of the water that day and hoping to see a fish. Then all of a sudden my spring bobber nose-dived. No way I thought as I pulled up, up, up on the line and out came a 14Ē momma perch. It was the only one I caught that day - biggest perch ever. She was all by herself just like me, and I was so proud of her - just like me.)
Always check the ice and get reports from others. Find out about the area you plan to go. Know where the ice may not be safe and stay away. Watch out for currents, deeper water and thawing. Use good judgement. We've heard stories of ice fishermen having to be rescued on free floating icebergs. This kind of stupidity is amazing. We don't want to read about your death in the newspaper. "Stupid guy falls through ice and dies." (No need for comment on this - it still applies.)
Clothing - Layering clothing is the key. The more the better. You can always take some off (yes, we know youíd like that too) if it gets too warm. Hats, good winter gloves and warm/waterproof boots are a must. We usually take extra gloves in case ours get wet.
Heaters - We've used stuff as simple as candles in a can for warming our hands. Propane lanterns are excellent and will heat and light the inside of a shanty. If you buy a propane heater ($40 and up) you'll never know you're outside. (Until you run out of propane - bring extra cans.)
You can go out alone and think for hours. Or, join up with others out on the ice and have a regular festival. (Do you think Iím OK going out there by myself? I guess Iíll try it, but I sure wish I knew someone, anyone...)
We've gone by ourselves on 20 below days and caught a slew of fish one after another sitting in a heated shanty. Sometimes we walk around to scope out how many fish are sitting out by people's shanties. On those extra cold days there won't be much movement out on the ice (because everyone stays in their shanty) except for people coming and going. Other times it seems our Airport Bay (Grosse Ile, Michigan) is one grand party complete with bonfires, trucks on the ice, snowmobile races, and loads of fishermen socializing everywhere. No, it's not the Tipup Town Festival on Houghton Lake, just another great winter weekend having a ball outside ice fishing!
(I miss it a lot. Anyone got a kleenex? How about Dawn, next Saturday, on the Ice, Iíll meet you there. Email me to confirm: firstname.lastname@example.org)