There is no doubt fall has left and winter has arrived. Our deciduous trees have shed their leaves. Early morning frost and warm days have turned to frozen ground and bone chilling winds. Activity on our lake is represented by a few ducks splashing in the slightly warmer creek fed waters. As the days pass, a thin coating of ice will begin to form around the shoreline and eventually across the various coves. Soon the lake will be covered with winter ice increasing in thickness by each passing day. As the ice thickens, so does the excitement level of our ice fisherman! Yes, it is time to put those augers, tip-ups, spears and light fishing gear back to work.
We are anxious to get out on the ice. Is it thick enough? Ice fishing is one of the most dangerous methods of fishing. Caution must be taken, especially when we are so eager to get started. There have been many accidents on our lake. Unfortunate stories have been told of hummers, trucks, cars, snowmobiles, animals and of course people breaking through the ice. A sure way to start the season off on the wrong foot. Some fisherman risk walking on ice at two and a half inches, when experts recommend a minimum of four inches. Ice thickness varies, especially in lakes with greatly varying depths. Our lake can drop twenty feet in a lateral distance of eight feet. This means the ice thickness will vary greatly early in the season. Six inches is recommended for sleds and snow mobiles. Ten inches for smaller vehicles and at least 16 solid inches for full sized trucks. In our seven years on the lake, the ice thickness was over 10 inches only once.
There are other risks to be aware of when out on the ice. Frostbite can occur from prolonged exposure to wind and the low temperatures. Proper winter clothing is essential. These days there are great huts, tents and shelters that can be quickly erected for escape from the harsh temperatures and biting winds. Some ice fishermen have more permanent shelters, usually on wheels, that can be towed onto the ice. These shelters often have bathrooms, stoves, beds and even satellite television. If you have a shelter with heat, proper ventilation is critical. Some fishermen lost their lives on the ice due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The greatest risk and most deaths have occurred from hypothermia. This is when the body temperature falls too low. It is important to educate yourself on hypothermia and all the other potential risks prior to heading out onto the ice. The goal is to have fun and be safe!
Time to fish. There are many different approaches to ice fishing. All approaches have some factors in common. Fish do not expend much energy under the ice. No need to have your bait do so either. In fact, too much motion will actually deter the fish. Depth is critical. Do a little research prior to heading out on the ice. The species of fish determines the depth of the fish. For example, crappie and bass will be found at different depths. This is one time a bobber is important. Use a slip bobber to set the proper depth. The bobber will also serve as a good visual for when there is action below. Fishing for bluegills and perch? Send the bait to the bottom. Some bouncing action will entice them to your bait. Chum is a good way to attract some attention too. This activity created by other fish feeding can draw lower energy fish to the site. In shallow waters, it is a good idea to cover your hole. Light penetrating thru the hole can scare fish away from your bait. There you have it – the rest is up to you. Have fun and catch some fish!