For the avid ice fisherman, the winter months don’t mean that you need to put the old rod and reel away until the weather warms up. Rather, they can be an opportunity to catch some of the biggest and best fish around. But before you can start reeling them in, you need to equip yourself with the right tools and knowledge.
So, with that welcome to my 5 tips for ice fishing this year as we see what we can come up with to assist you in getting them onto the hook and out of the hole…
1. Safety first
This is probably an obvious statement, but when it comes to ice fishing you are of course wandering out onto… well ice. Now of course the ice here is naturally formed meaning it is not always as even and thick right across the lake or river. It is also common for ice to be thicker closer to the edge than it is in the middle.
So, always know and check how thick the ice is as you venture out onto it. Many use a spud bar to check the thickness as well as including the following in mind just in case they do happen to fall into the water:
- Keep a long rope and throwable weight to help pull you out of the water.
- If you are on your own, or the ice is a little thin – wear a lifejacket.
- Screw drivers of ice picks in your fishing vest can also assist if you need to pull yourself out of the water as well.
2. Keep warm
I know we haven’t actually got to actual fishing as yet but one of the most common mistakes new ice fisherman makes is not dressing for the weather. Make sure you dress in layers and keep moving around to stay warm. If you are still cold, try adding more layers or getting closer to shelter.
If the weather is particularly chilly, then an investment is a complete fishing shelter can assist here as well. These are fully enclosed options that allow you to stay inside out of the wind whilst you fish. Warm drinks and ice fishing heaters can also work well here too.
3. Research your fishing grounds
This one is definitely a tip for all types of fishing but especially important for ice fishing where, as above, there is the real chance of the ice breaking and you taking a nice cold swim. And of course there is the second aspect of it all in that you are here to actually try and catch fish.
So when you are doing your research, consider the following:
- Water temperature – I think we have covered the safety aspects of ensuring the water is cold enough to stay frozen so we will leave that here. So when it comes to water temperature then, it can have a huge effect on how fish behave. In general, many species will come into shallower areas in the early morning or evening to find warmer waters than down deep.
- Ice temperature – The temperature of the ice can affect how you cut your holes as well. For example, if it is extremely cold outside then you will need to drill your holes quickly to avoid it freezing over again before you are finished. In this case, choose your auger wisely as well.
- Water clarity – One problem that can occur when the top of the water way is frozen is lack of movement underneath. Most fish prefer clearer waters so always try and find out where the water is of better quality with some movement.
- Structure – Just because it is winter, it doesn’t take away the fact that most fish like a bit of structure to hide around or under. So look for areas where there are deeper holes, gullies, underwater substrates or other structures such as fallen logs etc.
- What else is in the water? – We will discuss this next, however if you are wondering what bait or lures to use then you will need to check out what is in the water naturally. It is no good tying your favourite lure onto the line if it doesn’t match the type of live bait that shares the water with your target species. See what is found locally and match your fresh bait or lures accordingly.
- Ask a local – Want to know all of the above – ask a local. Lake or riverside tackle and bait shops are a good starting point here.
4. Move around
Again to state the obvious, but when it comes to ice fishing the water is extremely cold. This means that unlike in warmer waters, fish don’t tend to move around as much. What this generally means then is that if there are no bites in your chosen location, then sitting around and waiting for the fish to swim into your area is not generally going to work for you.
So if you are not getting anything then try a different bait. If still nothing then move somewhere else. Again speak to the locals as they can generally tell you where the fish will be at certain times of the year and where to go if they are not in the spot you thought they would be.
5. Take more than one rig
The thing to remember here is that unlike summer fishing, you are really restricted to the number of rods you can have in the water at once (too many holes in one place can weaken the ice). Hence, if you are trying for a number of different species or switching between live bait and lures, then it is often easier to simply swap rods and/or reels over than having to constantly re-rig.
This make things so much easier as well if you need to move around to areas where different species may be present as this way you can simply throw them all on your sled and off you go.
So there you have it, my 5 tips for those looking to get amongst them on the ice this year. As always, these are not going to guarantee you a catch, however they should give you a little more chance of success that you may not have otherwise had.
Have you tried anything else that has worked well, or not so well for you – or of course have a different opinion than above? If so, please comment below and we can have a chat.