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Steve Sarley: Right gear makes difference in ice fishing

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013 10:55 p.m. CST

As in open water fishing, if you want to go ice fishing, you can spend a fortune or decide to go on the cheap. One ice fisherman may be a little warmer and one may catch more fish, but they both will have a lot of fun. Having a good time while ice fishing is definitely not determined by how much money is spent.

Ice fishing is more affordable than open water fishing, by far. First, you don’t need a boat. Some ice aficionados have ATVs or snowmobiles to get around the frozen lakes with their gear, but that stuff is not at all necessary. All you really need is a plastic kid’s sled or disc to put your gear on. Attach a rope, and you are good to go. 

You don’t need a motorized vehicle to get around on the ice. Your own two boot-clad feet can get you anywhere you care to go. That’s going to be your most important expenditure: the boots. Buy the best you can afford. Make sure they are totally waterproof. Wet feet will end an ice fishing expedition in a matter of minutes. Make sure they are large enough to accommodate your feet covered by a couple of pairs of warm socks.

The only thing worse than wet feet is enduring a hard fall on your keister caused by slippery ice. Take my word for it because I am an expert at the sport of falling down. No matter how much clothing your body is layered in, falling hurts. You need to have a set of cleats or creepers attached to your soles. No cleats – no ice fishing. That should be automatic.

Having the right safety equipment is key. You need to carry a spud bar, for sure. A spud is a long rod with a weighted end. You pound on the ice in front of you before you walk on it to make sure it is solid. Having a long length of rope is a wise thing, too. One of those automatically inflatable life vests is the best thing you can do. 

The most important ice fishing tip I can offer is to never go ice fishing alone. If you break through the ice and go under, you may not be found until the ice thaws.

As far as clothing goes, you should layer your clothing just like you would for any other winter sport. Light layer on top of light layer keeps you warmer than just wearing one heavy garment. When you ice fish, you often will find yourself scurrying about a lot more than you would imagine. I can work up a real sweat on the ice, and you’ll be happy if you are able to strip off a layer or two.

Don’t forget a warm hat and something with a hood that will keep the wind off the back of your neck. A masked hood or a balaclava (I love that word) is necessary on the coldest and windiest of days. 

Most ice fishermen will tell you that the single most important thing you’ll need to purchase or rummage is a basic five-gallon bucket with a handle. You’ll be using this to store your gear for toting around and for hauling your fish home. Most important is the bucket’s alternative use as a seat when you flip it upside down.

An ice fishing shelter is nice, and one equipped with a propane heater is even better, but you don’t have to have one. Your trips shouldn’t last so long that you have to stop yourself from freezing stiff. If it gets too cold, just go home. Like I mentioned before, if you ice fish the right way and drill a lot of holes, you’ll be moving around enough that you will keep warm without a shelter.

We’ll talk about what kind of fishing gear you need to have to head out on our frozen waterways.


Outdoors calendar: The outdoors shows are on their way to northern Illinois:

• Jan. 9 to 12: All-Canada Show at the Pheasant Run Mega-Center in St. Charles on Route 64 between Routes 31 and 59.

• Jan. 10 to 12: The Chicago Muskie Show at Harper College in Palatine, at Roselle and Higgins Roads.

• Jan. 16 to 20: The Chicago Boat, RV & Outdoors Show at Chicago’s, McCormick Place North, at 23rd and Lake Shore Drive.  

• Jan. 22 to 26: Chicago Outdoor Sports Show at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont on River Road.

• Jan. 24 to 26: Chicagoland Gun Show, part of the above listed Chicago Outdoor Sport Show.

• Jan. 23 to 26: Chicagoland Fishing, Travel & Outdoor Expo at the Schaumburg Convention Center located off of Meacham Road between I-90 and Golf Road.

EHD reported: The IDNR said epizootic hemorrhagic disease popped up in the Illinois whitetail herd this year, but not as extensively as in 2012. They received 318 reports from landowners and hunters totaling 1,220 dead deer from 63 counties. In 2012, 2,968 dead deer were reported in 87 counties. EHD is a virus spread by gnats that can cause high fever and severe internal bleeding in deer. Although often fatal to deer, EHD is not hazardous to humans or pets. There were no dead EHD deer reported in McHenry, Lake, Cook, Kane, DeKalb, Will, Grundy or Du-Page counties. 

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