IV. Ice Fishing
IV.A. Essential Information
From Don "Sandbilly" Cox
Ice fishing has boomed in popularity over the last decade for one reason, success.
The tools used in ice fishing have evolved dramatically enabling a much better understanding of what goes on under the ice, mobility to find fish, and cold weather gear extending the amount of time we spend on ice.
For someone just starting out, it can be somewhat overwhelming. Best case scenario for beginners would be jumping in with an experienced ice angler for the first several ice outings. Ice Is Never Safe, but can be navigated if you understand it. There are so many variables dealing with ice formations on any given body of water, it is impossible to cover them all. Being prepared for worst case scenarios can save your life. My safety equipment includes a PFD, rope, ice spikes, flashlight, whistle, ice chisel for probing the area in front while walking. Always go with a buddy. Some of the most experienced ice anglers I know have had near death experiences from pushing the limits on ice. Unfortunately I've experienced the loss of a friend from going through while ice fishing. No fish is worth that risk. Always, always go prepared.
Other reasons for going with an experienced ice angler:
- To check out, and understand equipment being used, before purchasing for yourself.
- To gain a basic understanding of fish locations and how they react in cold water.
Equipment: Beyond the safety equipment listed above, an absolute must for anyone even thinking about this sport is a pair of ice cleats. You need the ability to get around safely on and off the ice without a trip to the emergency room. A pair of slip-on cleats runs under $10 and in the state of Nebraska , they are a good thing to own even if you don't ice fish.
A unique facet of this sport is ice fishing is relatively inexpensive to get started in, especially if you are somewhat creative. For example:
- Ice Skimmer = Coffee can with holes in the bottom, then add a handle.
- Auger = Spud bar or ice chisel
- Depth finder = clip-on weight
- Rods = Summer rods
- Tip-up = Line attached to a bucket
- Shelters = The sky's the limit
- GPS = Stick marking a hole
- Aqua-Vu = Pull hood over head, lay flat on ice, and look down the hole (p.s. If you stay in that position for an extended amount of time, watch out for coyotes.)
The list is endless. Part of being an ice fishing person is re-inventing the wheel. That being said, the manufacturers of ice fishing equipment make it for a reason. Sooner or later most people figure it out.
Other important items:
- Warm clothes, boots and gloves
- Hand warmers
- Fanny pack
- Pocket knife
- Fishing permit - something to remember if you are not accustom to purchasing one until soft water season.
- A sled to carry everything.
Rod > Reel > Line > Lure = Your connection to a fish
Balance in these four pieces of equipment are as much, if not more important, than in open water fishing, considering ice fishing's petite nature.
An 1/80th oz. jig will not sink tied on 10 lb. mono line.
A good drag system and a reverse option reel will increase the chances of landing big fish 100 to 1 when using the small diameter lines of ice fishing.
Unforgiving rods produce bounce-off hook sets. "Noodle" rods used in deep water provides poor hook penetration for firm-mouthed fish like walleye. Several ice rod manufactures now print suggested line weight and species for which the rod was designed on the rod blank.
Match lures to line and rod weight depending on targeted species.
Tip-ups are mostly used for top-end predator fish such as pike, musky and bass, but can also be use for pan fish. The strike indicators on tip-ups, are not as sensitive as a rod for catching light biting fish.
Most commonly used baits include minnows, wax worms, maggots also known as spikes, and smelt but the ice fishing bait universe is quite expansive.
Plastics and scented products are becoming popular by offering additional action and attraction to a lure.
Anglers are finding out what a great sport ice fishing is. Family outings on the ice are huge fun and good for you during these shortened daylight months, but please keep safety on your mind at all times.
IV.B. Where to Start: "Iced Trees, Iced Trees Anyone"
From Don "Sandbilly" Cox
The absolute most complex dilemma involved with ice fishing, (despite what the general populace may think) will always be "Where in the world on this expansive crystalline form of water am I ever going to be able to cut an 8-inch hole and find a fish?" Every action, product purchase, and thought process in this sport is somehow related to this question. There are thousands of articles floating around about it. Each one will more than likely have the word "structure" involved. Now this one does as well, but I would like to be more specific and talk about trees.
If you ice fish Nebraska, no matter which side or end, there is a good chance you cut on some type of impoundment from time to time. Everything from a stock dam to large reservoirs qualify, and the majority of these impoundments have one tree, two trees, many trees, submerged under water.
The importance of trees as habitat is multiplied under ice cover. Metabolisms slow down. Many species tend to group up, including those near the bottom of the food chain, zooplankton. I'm no expert, but my guess would be this is due to less wind-effect water currents. Zooplankton use submerged trees much the same as their next-in-line predators, for protection and food. Feeding zooplankton rise in the water column during low light conditions and drop back down in daylight. With a Vexilar, you can watch it happen in areas where a bazillion of these little critters live. In essence, due to the food chain, they create what we know as the morning and evening bites.
Every available fish species in any given body will relate to iced trees. This is not saying every fish in the lake will be in the proximity of a tree. However, at any given time, any lake species may be relating to the food chain described above. Merritt Reservoir is notorious for producing several different fish species from the same tree in the same day. It's not unusual to catch crappie, bluegill, perch, walleye, and channel cats out of the same tree, or even the same hole.
Obviously all trees are not created equal. Key areas like drop offs, points, inside bends, or my favorite, shelter belt corners, can provide multiple species habitat year round. Locating them under the ice is a different story. Submerged trees give off gas as they decay. Tell tale signs, if the ice is clear enough, are bubbles trapped in the ice. Springs, vents, cracks, and heaves can also trap air or give off gas, as do old ice fishermen, so not every air bubble is a tree. If available, a gps with lake chip is an unbelievable tool on ice. I also use paper maps and area pictures of trees when lake levels are low. Word to the wise if using pictures: label each photo as you take it.
Just remember on your next ice outing, "There isn't much better in Nebraska impoundments than Iced Trees."
IV.C. Ice Fishing Advice from NGPC's "Nebraska Outdoor Notebook"
From Tom Keith
(Nebraska Game & Parks Commission news release, Nov. 13, 2008)
NGPC fisheries biologist Daryl Bauer conducted a beginning ice fishing workshop at Bass Pro Shop in November of '08, with several NEFGA members in attendance. The recurring themes of his presentation were safety and mobility: "Be Safe" and "cut lots of holes until you find the fish..."
...I always figure it's a good idea to get ready ahead of time so I'm not out in the garage at the last minute with a flashlight trying to find the ice auger, tip-ups, or the little pill bottles where I keep my teardrops and ice flies.
I also have to remember to talk to the guy at the bait shop and find out when the wax worms and colored Euro larvae will arrive at his store.
In Nebraska, bluegill and crappie are commonly taken through the ice, and largemouth bass, walleye, yellow perch, northern pike and trout are frequent catches. Channel catfish are also occasionally taken through the ice.
Ice fishing equipment may be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. Basically, all you really need is a tool to bore through the ice, some type of rod, line, and bait.
To make the hole, a common garden spade, an ice spud, or a hand or power auger can be used, but remember that no ice fishing hole may exceed 10 inches in diameter on any area under the jurisdiction of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. This is to ensure that no one steps or falls through a large hole in the ice that has been either partially refrozen, or hidden from view by a thin glaze of ice or blowing snow.
Bauer's workshop included an introduction to the various types of tackle available to ice fishermen, from simple rods to more sophisticated spinning outfits and tip-ups.
Many ice fishermen use a regular open-water rod for ice fishing, while others use short jigging rods or a series of tip-ups that send up a flag when a fish has taken the bait.
There are many types and styles of ice fishing lures, ranging from metal teardrop lures and tiny jigs to metal spoons and slab lures. Wax worms, meal worms, small minnows and large chubs are among the most popular live baits for winter fishing.
Ice anglers are allowed to use five lines and a total of 10 hooks.
While some ice anglers take a windbreak or ice tent with them to help them keep warm, others prefer to erect a shelter called an ice shanty that roughly resembles an outhouse and usually folds down for easy transport. There are also ice fishing tents readily available at most of the larger sporting goods stores that are easy to transport and can be set up and taken down very quickly. Portable shanties and tents are usually removed from the lake at the close of the each day's fishing.
A special $5 permit is required to erect a permanent shelter on state recreation area or wildlife management area lakes. Applications and regulations are available from Nebraska conservation officers, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission offices or by mail at Commission headquarters at P.O. Box 30370, Lincoln, NE, 68503.
Other anglers just carry their gear in a used plastic utility or cement bucket. About everything but the auger will fit in there.
Everyone has different levels of tolerance when it comes to being comfortable when they are outside in the winter, so the choice of cold-weather clothing is an individual decision. I have learned that layering is the key to my keeping warm on the ice. I am most active when I'm dragging the sled holding all of my gear out onto the ice and putting up the ice tent, so I usually put my heavy coat and maybe a sweater or heavy shirt on the sled and leave it there until after the work is done. Of course, what I choose to wear depends on the temperature and wind, but usually I can get by with a thermo-undershirt, flannel shirt and a vest when I'm moving around. If I put all my warm clothes on at the car, I sweat when I'm getting to my spot and getting set up, and then I'm damp and cold all the time I'm fishing.
I always wear insulated rubber or rubber-and-leather boots because if my feet are cold, I'm cold all over. A stocking cap or hat with ear flaps is important, as are a couple of pairs of gloves, so if one pair gets wet you have another available.
Other gear thats handy to have when you are ice fishing includes:
- a long-handled metal scoop with holes in the bowl used to scoop small pieces of ice and slush out of the hole
- a hook remover
- a small bait bucket for carrying minnows or other types of bait
- a small dip net for taking minnows out of the bait bucket
- a gas lantern to provide warmth whenever you fish and light for night fishing.
For more information about ice fishing in Nebraska, anglers can pick up a free copy of the Nebraska Fishing Guide and the free NEBRASKAland Magazines Ice-Fishing Guide, which is available at Nebraska Game and Parks Commission district offices in Lincoln, Omaha, Norfolk, Bassett, North Platte, Kearney, Alliance and the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium. It can also be found on the Commission's Web site at Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Homepage.
Daryl explains how he uses a heavy metal spud bar to test the ice in front of him as he walks across a frozen lake. Always fish with a friend, and if there is any doubt about the quality of the ice, he recommends wearing a life jacket.
Member Tips/Suggestions: This thread is full of good advice for beginning ice fishermen: