I’d like to tell you one of my, “there I was, in the Congo” –style stories like I usually do, but I’m afraid it’s not so interesting at the moment. Here I am, sitting on a five gallon bucket, on the ice. The wind is about fifteen miles per hour, and this style of ice fishing is a lot less glamorous than fishing in a nice warm ice shanty. Yeah, I’ve seen those pictures of guys who have barbeque grills and cable TV in their shanties, and I’ll bet that’s nice. The fact is, in order to make the investment in such a posh fishing palace, a guy would want some guarantee of getting a lot of use out of it, and as you know, for the last dozen or so years Ohio has had some unseasonably warm winters. Well, that was before this year. In 2014 the guy who has been storing that shanty in his back yard for the last couple of years is living pretty high on the ice fishing hog.
One of the things that keeps people from trying ice fishing is the idea that you need a lot of new equipment to get into it. If you go to the sporting goods store, you know they’re going to try to sell you something. There’s no casting in ice fishing, so almost any reel will do and your rod can be sixteen inches long and that works just fine too. I know many ice fisherman who’ve made the most of those car-loading accidents and adapted broken rods into ice fishing rods. Your presentation in the ice is 100 percent vertical, essentially a lot of jigging, so keep the rod and reel simple. One thing you do need to keep in mind not to spray your reel it full of WD40, because when temperatures drop, light lubricants will thicken up and your reel will feel like it’s full of peanut butter. I like the graphite powder that locksmiths use, or the new lightweight gun lubricants like Break-Free.
Getting through the ice is necessary and one of the truly useful pieces of equipment is a scoop to bail the re-forming ice out of your hole, but everything else is pretty much for either an advantage (like a sonar or a below the ice camera) or for personal comfort, like a small propane heater or portable shanty. Ice chisels will get you through a used hole (which might be fished out, might not) but an ice auger will allow you to scout around and “play the field”. If you’re fishing a familiar lake from last summer, go to the same places that produced fish when it was warm. Remember that cover always holds fish, even if it’s frozen on the surface. If you aren’t getting some bites after a little while, try another hole.
Ice fishing lures are basic, small and different from casting lures. Here’s where you give in to the guys at the bait shop; ask them what’s working right now and buy a few new lures. While you’re there, ask where the fish are biting. Bait shops are a wealth of fishing intelligence.
One thing I need to stress is safety; just because you’re on the ice doesn’t mean you’re not on the water, and when you’re on the water you need to be wearing a personal floatation device. This is something that hasn’t caught on yet with a lot of ice fisherman, but nobody’s going to say it’s wrong. Many ice fishing outfitters wear those orange survival suits you see the Coast Guard wearing. Plan for disaster, and remember that most ice fisherman who perish don’t die of exposure, they drown. The best thing you can do for safety, besides always wearing a PFD, is to never go on the ice alone. Just like at summer camp, if you have to swim, swim with a buddy! (Brrrr!)
So now that I’ve scared you into staying indoors, let me tell you why you should venture out on the ice. If you’re really an angler, you’re getting rusty, and I know how badly you want to get outdoors. It’s the best cure for cabin fever, ever. When the fish are biting they bite like a bunch of piranhas, and the really big fish, the behemoths that spend all summer laying low on the bottom bite like crazy when somebody offers a free meal beneath the ice. In particular, predator fish will be common (walleye, bass and even pike) but don’t discount the panfish because you could easily catch a limit of perch, bluegill or crappie slabs.
Lastly, maybe the best reason to get on the ice is you’ll set yourself apart from the casual Saturday worm-drowners, and everyone will think you’re crazy to do it. Prove them right, and welcome to the asylum! GET OUTDOORS!