Ice fishing isn't for everybody. In fact, an age-old quote about ice fishing is that everybody wants to try it-- once! But for many others, ice fishing is not just a sport to enjoy, but an absolute celebration.
Make a party out it
The first thing to note is that ice fishing is much more an accessible sport than summer fishing. Few people can afford, nor do many manufacturers make a boat large enough to accommodate eight to 10 people and those who do charge a princely sum for them. And a boat that will accommodate 25 people? Forget about it unless you are a millionaire.
On the other hand, with ice fishing, the whole brood, from the youngest 4-year-old to grandpa can easily walk on the ice, particularly if they are wearing simple metal cleats over their boots to avoid slipping on the ice.
Many family and friend groups make in an all-day party of it on the ice, spending part of the day ice fishing, while others shovel the snow off the ice to make an impromptu ice skating rink, play hockey, build snowmen, and fire up barbecues.
While ice fishing is the main sport, most groups have so much fun that after a while, it doesn't really matter how many fish you catch.
There are some serious fish to be had with ice-fishing
But for those that care to get serious about ice fishing, they should know that unlike birds who migrate to fair-weather places, fish don't go anywhere in the winter. Their bodies have learned to adapt to the cold water, partly by adding additional layers of fat in the warmer months, just like a polar bear or other cold temperature animals do above ground.
And while the water temperature does get colder in the winter, it's not nearly as cold in the water that you can imagine.
Consequently, not only are there plenty of fish available in the winter (and in many locations, fewer ice fishermen as well,) but you can walk out on the ice to get nearer their location. So even trophy fish, not just panfish are available with ice fishing.
How do you ice fish?
Aside from all the other factors such as wearing warm clothing, which we will cover later, at its bare bones, ice fishing is as simple as walking out on the ice, boring a hole with an auger, scooping out the slush with a small shovel, plunking your fishing line into the hole, sitting on a upturned 5-gallon bucket, and hoping the fish will bite.
Some drill only one or two holes, content to let the fish find them, and some drill as many as a 100 holes on a single ice fishing tips.
Many people do use a Hawkeye fish finder, suspended in the water, to find structures that fish will hide in when avoiding larger predators, or when they wish to feed.
Panfish such as perch often hang together in schools, while larger game fish such as pike, often are solitary fish, and the nearest pike to them maybe 3 to 6 feet again.
They tend to hide near underground bushes waiting to strike at prey.
Essential elements of safety
Ice fishing isn't particularly dangerous if you use common sense, and also take precautions not to ice fish too early or too late in the season when the ice becomes iffy.
In some areas of the country, the local extension department or another body will actually test the ice and provide an ice report. Make sure the ice is a minimum of 4 to 6 inches deep, with the latter preferred.
Another good source of information are the local bait shops. They get all the reports from ice fishermen and can give you warnings about areas to avoid.
Also, be on the lookout for fellow ice fishermen. If you see even cars or snowmobiles and ice houses on the lake, you can be pretty sure it is safe.
In remote areas, many ice fisherman, first bring a fully charged cellphone along with them and notify a friend where exactly they are going. Then they check in once an hour with their friend. And the vast majority of ice fishermen always go out with at least one buddy.
If they are on a strange lake, many also wedge a life preserver over them and bring along a whistle as well to call for help. Hypothermia is no joke, so the sooner you get out of the water and into a change of clothes, the better your odds are of surviving a fall into icy water.
Fortunately, very few people actually fall through the ice while ice fishing, so as long as the ice below you looks clear, has no signs of melting, and the locals have assured you it's of the right minimum thickness, you'll be okay.
What to wear?
The main thing to keep in mind is to not only dress warmly but in layers.
Start from the bottom up. Wear snow boots, and perhaps not one, but two pair of socks.
If your feet are cold, you'll be miserable on the ice.
Next, while jeans are okay, make sure you have an outer bib to wear on top of it. Ice fishermen spend a great deal of time on their knees, and simple jeans won't cut it.
For your upper body, three layers are recommended. First, an undergarment that wicks moisture away from your body, then a sweater, and finally a thick protective outercoat that keeps you warm, preferably with a hood.
Also include a warm, wool hat, and a scarf to wrap around your neck.
Don't be surprised if, on many sunny days, you wind up with your coat jacket completely unzipped, as, during sunny, windless days, it can actually feel quite warm on the ice.
Some people go the bear minimum route, with a bucket, a rod, and perhaps a cushion to comfort your bottom, while many others bring a tent and ice fish away from the wind.
It's up to you how sophisticated you want to get. In places like Minnesota, it's not uncommon to find ice houses complete with furnaces, electricity, television, and the internet.
The point, however, is that ice fishing can be a blast for the entire family, and for the serious trophy fish hunter, at a time when the competition from other fishermen is limited.
And you can maximize your efforts by knowing what's underneath the ice by using a Hawkeye Fish Finder.