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Updated 2012!

Ice Fishing – YES!!!

  What a fantastic way to cut out the wintertime Ho-Hums! This is a pro-active way to quickly strip away the long monotonous boredom of winter, with intense and wild fun.

 Anyone can participate, fishin' buddies gettin' out and seriously 'goin' for it', or as a family unit - just out to enjoy some of our finest wholesome North American heritage.  Either way – YOU WIN! What a wonderful way to enjoy some of nature's bounty- just as our Lord has created it.

Many areas offer ice fishing opportunities for perch, sunfishes, walleye, crappie, whitefish, and trout, as potential quests.  You'll have to check with your local DNR/MNR or wildlife agency to see what's in season and where.  This arduous task may even involve a phone call - a small and inconsequential task for some of the finest flavored fish of the year. 

Indeed, fish when caught from the frigid ice cold water, are at the year's best, with the flesh firm and flaky.  During the winter most ardent anglers regard fish as being the best tasting, not having any muddy flavor, especially from waters which are quite warm during summer months- and another major issue is that fewer fish will have parasites.. 

Many fishing 'hot spots' will have ice fishing hut rentals for those so inclined, but many of us will wish to simply go out on the ice with no hut.  As well, you'll likely see many private huts out on waterbodies where ice fishing is drawing participants, and these huts will be of all shapes sizes and descriptions.  Now-a-days it's common to see the collapsible huts and highly protable huts, too, offering some great fishing opportunity – including a high degree of mobility!

Advantages of using an ice hut are many, especially during wickedly cold weather. An ice hut allows an angler to get out of the elements, of which, wind is one of the primary concerns.  Of course, if the wind is strong, likely one shouldn't be out on the ice anyway; but even a light breeze can draw a person's body warmth away. Out on frozen water, there's  ALMOST ALWAYS a breeze.  Ice huts also allow one to stay out fishing longer, just because the people aren't so vulnerable to the elements. Just as wind can be the pits, so can bright blinding sun. I've even weathered sleet/rain/snowstorms cozily from within an ice hut.  These inclement weather events are often great times for fishing, and it's not hard to 'pound on 'em' during such climactic events. 
Disadvantages of using an ice hut can also be impressive points worth your contemplation! 

 SHADOW  likes to go too - but DON'T DO IT -
slush and ice will build up between the toes, and they'll find every
bit of thin ice and fish hook and uncovered auger blade out there!
Do yourself and fido a favor and leave him home!

The single, most important deterrent, when considering the use of an ice hut is mobility.  This mobility factor is multi faceted.  Not only must one be able to get the unit out on the ice, but be able to re-locate it occasionally.  As well, if the fish you are questing after are nomadic, such as walleye and perch, you may need to travel around to afford yourself the best opportunities at catching decent numbers of fish.  Indeed, when I go ice fishing, I may have to bore upwards of 20 to 100 holes in a day to find fish.  If I have a portable ice hut, once I find fish, I'll set-up right over the most productive hole.  But this is the point, I will travel around, 'hunting' fish, then set-up where fishin's the best. 

Some people will locate their hut, and never move it all season. I believe this approach often limits their catch.  As well, on larger lakes/waterbodies, one may have to get their hut off the ice in the event of a winter 'blow' (storm) coming in. Most jurisdictions have a time when huts must be removed before the spring thaw. Many jurisdictions will have a special license for ice huts - some not - that phone call to your game officials will give you that info.

IF YOU HAVE/USE a permanent ice hut, and wish to increase your catches substantially, I invite you to contact me at my email address for methods of doing just that! I have both Pro Factsheets( like a chapter from a book on a specific subject) available as hardcopy – or electronic files (PDF) that I can send you at a nominal price – and as I write this early January 2012, am working on audio files/CD . Some of these items are NOT listed here on my web – so do contact me for pricing and 'format'. I'll also need to know what species of fish you primarily fish for...

SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS: 

While not wishing to insult your intelligence, one must be sure of the ice conditions before going ice fishing.  Each year hundreds of ice-fisherpeople are stranded somewhere, often because of thin ice.  ALWAYS BEAR IN MIND THAT WIND IS ONE OF THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE ELEMENTS ON ICE, AND CONDITIONS.  Wind can break-up ice, and often breaks off large chunks of ice, sometimes several miles across, which may 'float away', with hapless ice anglers on it! 

The best source of ice information is from seasoned ice-hut operators, and local bait/tackle shops, whom cater to ice fishing buffs.  Never go out on the ice without securing the most recent ice conditions possible. 

Always tell someone where you are going, and give a 'be back' time - and stick to it - even if you have to leave 'just when the fishin's picking up'

CONSIDER PURCHASING EITHER MY 'PRO REPORT' ON ICE FISHING, OR 'PRO FACTSHEETS' ON ICE FISHING SUBJECTS - these will help you catch more fish - and the safety items may SAVE YOUR LIFE.  As you'll see in my 'Products section' these publications are 'need to know' information, and are incredibly 'cost effective'. As well, they're not your usual 'run of the mill' write-ups. 
I now have two ice fishing books available - and numerous ProFactSheets for ice fishing buffs. This is NOT the same old stuff re-written in my words - much is new material.
"Ice Fishing Basics" is a great book with tons of the foundational building block information, so often lacking in many fishers - even ardent fishers will learn from it.
My book " Northern Ontario Ice Fishing" covers much info for both residents - and especially valuable for people going into remote Northern Ontario in quest of some great fishing. I cover how to find fish in great detail in both books.

I also now have several audio CDs on ice fishing specifically, and fishing in general so you can learn 'how to' do your favored pastime at very intense levels – while you're in your car going to work – or listening to them over/over at your work or play. These will be a great assent for those who just don't like to read books! You can even listen to them while ice fishing! Contact me for pricing and availability – use my email address link here on this page!

DRESS WARMLY FOR ICE TRAVEL/FISHING 

Enough can't be said about this topic. If you go out on the ice inadequately prepared for ice travel/fishing - you're likely to have an absolutely abysmal time, and if this is your first time - you may never want to go back again. 

Wear heavy felt-pack boots or the new family of winter wear products, and ditto for gloves and warm coat. Long-johns are a must, as is a toque (spelt 'tuke' in the US)! 

Sunglasses should be worn out on the ice, even on relatively dull days. Glare from the ice and snow can produce 'snow blindness' which can be a very painful and serious condition. 
 

TACKLE: 

Ice fishing tackle can be frugal indeed! I've done well using only a willow twig to hold my line, so it wouldn't touch the sides of the hole. As well, this will allow enough sensitivity to see a fish if it happens to take the bait. But this simplistic outfit is only adequate for use in very shallow water. I prefer to use the most sensitive ice rod I can find at tackle shops, and use an ultra light open faced spinning reel. Some ice fishing rods come with rod/line/reel as a combo, which the reel may be a simple wire line holding clip/device. These are fine if you aren't fishing in much deeper than about ten to twelve feet of water – and for smaller species such as perch or most of the sunfish's!

Any tackle shop owner will be able to help you choose an adequate rod/reel set-up for the water you are going to fish. As a rule of thumb , ice fishing tackle is relatively inexpensive as compared to regular fishing gear. All of the gear, including the ice auger  doesn't need to be worth more than several hundred dollars - at most. If you have a 'bud' that has an ice auger, rod, reel and an assortment of tackle shouldn't cost you more than seventy five bucks. For those of us really 'into' ice fishing can quickly accumulate a vast quantity of equipment. A good ice auger and decent rod/reel are most important, to my mind. Older folk can extend the time they can fish and be out in frigid air by use of an ice hut. I have/use several sized collapsible huts, in which I use portable propane heaters. If you'd like me to give you a free evaluation of the numerous collapsible huts on the market – contact me – I have used a number of them, and would be happy to tell you what I know about them – I have NO affiliation with ANY ice hut manufacturers – so my opinions are totally unbiased!

THE HOLE: 

When ice fishing, we must deal with the hole you're going to need, determined largely by the fish species you'd like to catch. 

Generally, if you are going to use an ice auger, which I recommend, a four inch hole is usually adequate for perch (only). For sunfish, pike, small crappie, and speckled trout, the minimum size should be a six inch hole. For larger fish, large crappie, trouts such as rainbow & lakers, pike etc., you'll need a ten inch hole. 

My  Books & Factsheets, available from the Products Section of this homepage, have much detail about all of these ice fishing and hole boring aspects in detail - and just as importantly - the 'don't-do-its' associated with this pastime. 
 

BAIT: 

Many fish have been taken during the winter months ice fishing by fisherfolk using ( both live or dead – many jurisdictions don't allow live minnow use) minnows and other forms of insects and live baits, than any other method. Don't discount maggots, wax worms and the like too, especially if fishing for panfish. Live minnows are undisputedly the best – but many jurisdictions do not allow live minnow usage. I've used home/frozen minnows to good effect as they don't use harsh chemicals to preserve them. I make good use of the Berkley GULP! baits - which gets away from trying to mess with live minnows. My "Ice Fishing Basics" book gives oodles of details on catching your own, and how to build a nifty and INEXPENSIVE holding tank for keeping minnows all winter.

Perch, when you're into a solid school of fish, can be duped by the use of a perch eye, but I prefer using a light weighted  ice jig or attractor hook tipped with live bait or GULP! baits.

FISHING STRATEGY: 

Fish are cold blooded critters, and don't need to feed as extensively in the cold months, but they do feed. They often won't be as aggressive biting, so 'feel' is important with ice fishing. If you happen to 'tear into' a major school of jumbo/jack perch, action can be intense - to say the least. Generally, fish caught through the ice don't bite aggressively. This is especially true for sunfish and crappie. Pike and trout are still aggressive 'hitters'; but you've got to be quick & ready for both walleye and  panfish. Hooks should be needle sharp! 

I like to keep my bait moving all the time. There are special 'thrumming' rods available, but I prefer to impart my own action. 

Gently, let  your bait to go right to the bottom, and allow it to stay there for several minutes. After several minutes, 'trigger' your line( with your 'trigger' finger), then after a few minutes, if nothing is happening, raise your line up to a new depth, about four feet higher than where it was. Repeat this process until the bait is right up and nearly into the hole. I've caught decent fish right under the ice - not a foot below the hole! Perch and walleye are bottom hugging fish, though - and it's not very often they will be anywhere except right on the bottom. Large lake walleye are sometimes the exception to this, however, but this is a special consideration for only a relatively few areas - and usually only for a short time during periods when they are moving around a lot.

Try  the above procedure a couple of times in any given location. If you catch fish at a 'given' depth, try to return your bait back to this same depth - as this is where the fish are. They  'suspend' at a given depth, and may not be above or below this 'given' depth. Just know that most perch/walleye will be on or close to the bottom, most of the time.

If there is nothing doing in an area, go elsewhere to bore a hole. Once you've found fish - stay there! I may have to drill ten - fifteen holes( and often more), fishing each hole about five minutes, before finally hitting 'good fish'. If you've drilled a number of holes, and can return to any of them, re-try some of the holes a bit later. Fish may have 'moved in' or the act of boring the hole may have spooked fish away, and this re-fish/try may be what's needed to locate fish, especially if other anglers in the same area are catching fish. Generally, I will start in shallow water and work out to deeper water until I hit fish.

Just as in most fishing - if the wind is from the east - 'fishing's the least'.

If you want more in-depth ice fishing info, please refer to my product section of this homepage, where I offer BOOKS and 'Pro Factsheets' on ice fishing strategies and techniques as well as much specialized tackle, simply found no-where else - stuff that works and is cost effective. Also, if interested in my audio CD's on ice fishing, email me at either outdoors@execulink.com or environm@execulink.com for what species and disciplines I have – I'm adding to them all the time!


Author: John A Vance
Copyright © 1998 John A Vance. . . 

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