When it comes to outdoor skills, we all have to learn them somewhere. Learning to ice fish is no different.
Like so many other outdoor pursuits, ice fishing can be as simple as it was in your grandfather’s day, or involve using the latest technology available. You can catch fish either way.
My father was not an ice fisherman, but a few of my uncles were. Therefore I was exposed to ice fishing a few times in my youth. I remember one of my uncles taking us perch fishing on Lake Champlain. We actually used tip-ups and did pretty well.
Other times, we used wooden jig sticks or just a piece of plywood with wedges cut into each end with string wrapped around it. We also hung out in a friend’s ice shanty from time to time. Those were memorable trips.
The busy lifestyle of early adulthood kept me off the ice. Then, a number of years ago I decided I really wanted to give it a try again. Fortunately, I had a few buddies who were really into ice fishing and took me under their tutelage. I’ve learned a lot from them and owe them dearly for the knowledge and friendship they’ve shared with me.
While I often venture out on my own these days, using my own gear and a little know-how, my best times are still spent with my fishing buddies.
Therefore if you are new to ice fishing, my first piece of advice is to find someone who has some experience. Beg them to take you and show you the ropes. If you have some equipment, great. If not, you’ll get a feel after a few outings of how you want to go about it and will purchase what you need.
Ice fishing gear can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. First, and foremost, is the proper clothing. You’ll need attire that is warm, yet allows you to move freely. Wind resistance is a plus and waterproof boots are a must. Some anglers are constantly on the move while others sit tight. Your clothing needs to match your style.
Many anglers jig for fish but jigging rods are not a one-size-fits-all option. If you’re going to jig for perch and panfish you’ll need a small, sensitive rig and lures (jigs) to boot. For bigger fish, such as lake trout or walleye, you’ll want a heavier jig rod.
Tip-ups are yet another option, and there are many styles to choose from. I like standard tip-ups and mine are heavy-duty with big spools for fishing lake trout in deep water, such as Schroon Lake or Lake George. However, I have some older tip-ups with less line for shallow water and have used them to catch perch and northern pike.
A pack basket to put this stuff in is handy but many anglers use five-gallon buckets, which can also double as a bait bucket — something you’ll need if you plan to use live bait. You’ll also want to have a sled of some type to drag all this stuff around on the ice. Safety gear, like ice picks and even a life vest, are not a bad idea.
A hand auger is usually the simplest way to drill holes in the ice. Panfish anglers can get by with a 4-inch auger, but most of us use a 6-inch auger. Power augers, of course, make it easier, but are heavier to haul around. No matter what you use to drill a hole in the ice, you’ll want an ice skimmer to clear slush from that hole, which you’ll do repeatedly throughout your ice fishing day.
As for the upper echelon of ice fishing equipment, an ice shanty, albeit a portable or semi-permanent one, can’t be beat. You can stay warm, organized and out of the wind with a good shanty. An ATV is the ultimate tool for transporting gear. You just have to make sure there is plenty of ice to support it. I prefer to walk, myself.
Finally, the fastest growing ice fishing tool these days is the electronic fish finder. Sonar flashing devices are dominating the market for serious anglers. They’re a real time saver for sure as they not only tell you what the fish are doing, but what they’re not.
If Mother Nature holds true, some fine ice fishing lies ahead. Don’t miss out.
The Cranberry Lake Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department’s “First Strike” ice fishing tournament is from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25. It’s a big tournament on a big lake where they catch big pike. And, there are plenty of prizes. For more information, visit www.cranberrylakefire.org.
Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at www.adkhunter.com.