Ice fishing has been a favorite sport of fishermen and women for thousands of years, and it continues to be so today. The fact that you have to put forth some effort in order to catch that fish you’ve been dreaming about is one aspect of it. The other hand, ice fishing is a means of survival for people who live in harsher environments, such as those found in the northern hemisphere.
However, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to the level of satisfaction you will feel when you finally get your hands on your catch, ice fishing is without a doubt an excellent method of fishing. Naturally, some equipment as well as a great deal of patience will be needed to complete the project.
In case you’re interested in learning a little more about this particular type of fishing, we’ve put together a list of suggestions that you might find useful.
How to ice fish
Before we can get into the specifics of the equipment and techniques you’ll need to employ when ice fishing for walleye, we’ll need to provide some sort of definition for the term “ice fishing.” It is obvious that there are potential catches to be found beneath the ice. For the most part, and unless the ice is exceptionally thin or spring is on its way, you will first need to drill a hole in the ice to accommodate your sonar and rod and reel combination.
While ice fishing is frequently done for recreational purposes, it can also be done for a living in a commercial setting. The term is typically associated with cold weather, which is why ice fishermen are considered heroes in their angling communities because they must put up with the rigors of winter fishing. They are fearless and have no fear of anything, at least when it comes to catching their prey.
Something that needs to be clarified right away is that the ice on top of the water body in which you will be fishing acts much like an insulator, which means that it is capable of maintaining a specific temperature in order to prevent fish from freezing to death. While some anglers may not be aware of it, fish do hibernate, at least in part, during the winter months. Because of the low temperature in the water, their movements may be slower, which means that you have a better chance of catching them in a targeted manner.
Preparing for ice fishing
As you might have guessed by now, this isn’t one of those sports that you can take up with little to no equipment, or with just a fishing t-shirt and a nice pair of UV-resistant pants on. We’ve detailed some of the preparation means you need to ensure before going out to ice fish.
Decide on a location
Don’t go fishing on any lake near you, particularly if you haven’t found out anything about it or if you aren’t aware of other fishers using it. If you have little to no experience, we recommend first checking out the local legislation so as to ensure you are not breaking any laws. It’s very likely that you will need a fishing license. Its price can vary from one state to the other, and the cost also depends on the period of time it is available for.
One of the best-known states where ice fishing contests are held every year is Minnesota. The area is scattered with amazing locations, so you should go online and do a bit of research before hitting the road.
When it comes to the means you will use to either get to your fishing location or explore it some more, you’ll need either a snowmobile, a UTV, or an ATV, depending on what you can rent or what you won. Keep in mind that the frozen surface has to be thick and strong so as to make sure that you don’t go under by accident along with your vehicle.
Safety matters quite a bit
It stands to reason that the thickness of the frozen layer has to be one of the major factors you should bear in mind. While some anglers are loners, we do not recommend heading out on the ice all on your own, particularly if you are a complete beginner in the art of ice fishing. Think of it this way. A buddy will pull you out of the water in the event of an accident.
Safety also refers to the way you will dress. A quality pair of fishing gloves, proper apparel, as well as boots, head coverage, and even sunglasses might make the difference when it comes to your angling success. You need all of these and more, as it is very likely for you to spend several hours at the fishing site. So, you require a little sustenance and might even find a thermal cup useful. There are also heated jackets and gloves that you can use, and they usually come equipped with rechargeable batteries.
If you do decide to go ice fishing alone, we recommend getting a good personal floatation device. At least you will be reassured that you will float on the water. We feel compelled to reiterate the fact that if you ever feel unsure about the thickness of the ice, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t step on it.
What gear do you need?
Aside from a rod and reel, as well as bait and lures, which you probably use for other types of fishing, as well, you’ll require some extra equipment. An ice spud comes in handy when it comes to checking the surface on which you will step. Besides, a chisel is a must-have, and it does remain one of the most popular tools when it comes to fishing as it enables you to drill your hole on the ice surface so as to create an opening.
Additionally, you need to consider the method you will use in order to get rid of the ice you’ve just drilled. An ice scoop is a product you might require, in this case. It is designed uniquely when compared to other types of scoops, in that it has a circular shape, but somehow looks like a spade.
Depending on how much time you plan to spend doing your thing on the ice, you will require an ice shanty. There are loads of tutorials online that you can benefit from if you want to learn how to build an ice fishing shack. Many times, it doesn’t even have to be all that well-made. It just needs to be able to protect you from the wind and cold, at least to some extent.
As we were saying above, your clothing matters a lot when it comes to your comfort. If you wear clothes that are either too thin or too thick, you’ll end up loathing your ice fishing trip altogether, and you won’t enjoy spending too many hours doing it. It’s safe to say that you will the need to get back home as quickly as possible, especially if you’re freezing.
How to ice fish for walleye and other species
Walleyes inhabit reefs, points, and drop-offs, so they like to cruise the lake contours. Therefore, the first tip that we can give you is to look at a map so as to identify the areas where you’re most likely to get a catch.
Another piece of advice that we can give you, particularly if you’re just starting out, is to drill more holes than one. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to turn the ice lake into a large piece of Swiss cheese. Since the legislation of many states allow you to utilize two lines at the same time, what you can do is drill two holes, set up your equipment, and then jig one or the other, from time to time.
Jigging aggressively can be done with the help of a medium-action rod. For walleyes, there are four types of lures that offer amazing results, and they are lipless crankbaits, jigs, jigging rapalas, as well as spoons. Of these, lipless crankbaits are by far the most aggressive ones as they are easy to jig and come back to their vertical position quickly.
The usual methods
If you live in an area where ice fishing is a popular sport, you could start out by scouring the lakes even during summer. What this means is that you should try to analyze the spaces where fish gather. As we’ve noted above, walleye and other potential catches like the edges of the lake. The point is that starting to do your research even when the weather is warm can help you prepare a lot better for the months when you’ll practice your ice fishing.
Once you’ve reached the site, you need to make sure that the ice you’ll be standing and eventually sitting on is at least 6 inches thick. All of this is important as you will be able to rest assured that it can hold your weight and that of the rest of your equipment. Use your ice chisel to drill holes so as to access the bottom of the water. With the help of your scoop, perfect your hole as best as possible.
When it comes to the length of your line, it has to match the depth of the water. If you are feeling unsure about how much you should use, we recommend utilizing a sinker so as to determine the distance to the bottom. Once you have made sure that the line length doesn’t stay at the bottom, you can use several types of baits and lures to get started. Keep in mind that you can’t fish as you would in the summer, so you absolutely need a weight that can hold your lure at the right water level so as to attract fish.
Because in many states, it is illegal to throw your line or bait in the water, you need to make sure that once you’re certain you’ve caught something, you reel it in slowly. This way, you’ll avoid line breakage and safely secure your catch. Needless to say, the line you will have to use has to be oiled so as to avoid getting stuck on the ice.
If you are savvy and creative, you can take advantage of the craft of other ice fishers like you. What this means is that, whether you are a beginner or not, you can look for holes that haven’t been covered and try your luck with them instead of drilling your own. Of course, all of this works if they haven’t been covered by another layer of snow.
Because the ice fishing presentation is so important in the game, it’s a good idea to start gathering your equipment before you try your hand at any type of fishing. We’ve already covered some of the lures you might want to consider using if you’re going after walleye. Others that produce excellent results include flash spoons, which, when used in conjunction with a minnow head on one of your hooks, create a lethal combination.
Don’t expect to have a spectacular ice fishing success right off the bat, though. To master the art of jigging, including working your line, lures, and weights, as well as handling fish, it may take you years and years of practice and dedication. Carry out your research and speak with other anglers who share your interests. Unless you’re friendly and willing to lend a helping hand whenever the situation calls for it, you’d be surprised at how close-knit this community can become.
The very least you could do is look for some tutorials on the internet or watch a few videos on the subject. If they can assist you in learning how to drill a hole, they may even be able to tell you what type of specific equipment you will require for one species or another.
Last but not least, make every effort to maintain your safety at all times. Despite the fact that we have already addressed this subject above, we feel the need to reiterate it because it is one of the most important aspects of your angling efforts. Regardless of the type of fish you are after, the location, or any technique preferences, the fact remains that nothing beats safety when it comes to fishing.
Charles Reynolds is an engineer from New York University with a passion for fishing. His earliest memories of fishing go back to the days spent on the lake with his grandfather who taught him the sport. Reynolds spends a large part of his holidays fishing with his son and passing on the skills to the little one.