Ice-fishing can be a great way to beat cabin fever and it can be one of the best times of the year to catch fish. However, to take advantage of ice-fishing opportunities, some gear is essential to make the experience safe, comfortable and productive.
Never venture out onto the ice until it is certain that the ice is a safe thickness – that means 4 inches of new, clear ice.
Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, has the following recommendations for essential ice-fishing equipment:
Clothing – Many boots are available that have removable liners that are rated for temperatures well below zero. Spend as much money as you can afford on a good pair of boots because you will be standing on the ice.
The key to staying warm is layering. Begin with a base layer of silk or synthetic underwear and add layers. Wool garments provide excellent insulation and will maintain warmth even when damp. Outer layers may include sweat shirts and jackets covered by heavy parkas, bibs or coveralls. Carry at least a couple pairs of gloves or mittens. Remove layers during periods of activity to avoid sweating and add layers back on during periods of inactivity.
Safety – The best tool for checking ice thickness is an ice chisel or spud bar that may be used to strike the ice and evaluate conditions. Commercial or homemade ice picks should be worn around your neck in case the worst happens and you need something to grip the ice and pull yourself out of the water. Ice creepers or ice cleats are great for keeping you on your feet. Wearing a life jacket is a good idea until you are sure the ice is safe. All ice anglers should have a long piece of rope in case of emergency.
Ice holes – A spud bar may be used to make holes in the ice, but ice augers make the job easier. Hand augers are relatively inexpensive and would be the best investment for beginning ice anglers. Once a person is ready to make a greater investment, powered augers make the job even easier. An ice skimmer is essential for scooping ice chunks from holes.
Rods and reels, hooks and bait – Beginners may use their open-water fishing rods and reels. Specialized, shorter, ice fishing rods allow anglers to sit closer to their ice holes while they are fishing. There are a variety of ice-fishing rods on the market, or anglers can manufacture their own using broken open-water rods.
Think small and light for most ice-fishing tackle. Fish metabolism rates are slower during the winter so light lines with relatively small hooks, jigs or spoons tipped with wax worms or maggots are the best ice-fishing tools for most species of fish.
Borrow a child’s sled to haul your equipment onto the ice. Use heavier lines and larger baits for pike and other large predator fish.