We talked about gearing up for ice fishing last week, now let’s discuss actually hitting the ice. Of course, because we are being extra careful and have our ice cleats on our feet, there won’t be any “hitting the ice” at all.
You need to drill holes. I mean, plenty of holes. If you are using a hand auger, make sure it is sharp. Ask your tackle shop for a name of someone who hones auger blades. A gas auger is a lifesaver, but they are expensive. The new electric ice augers are powerful and the battery lasts quite awhile. You don’t have to fool around with gasoline, but the electrics are expensive, too. The best suggestion I can make is to make friends with somebody who owns a power auger.
For beginners, head out to the ice and ask some of the guys already out there if you might be able to use a couple of their spare holes. More than likely they will offer to drill a couple of fresh ones for you. Ice fishermen are exceptionally friendly and accommodating. If someone does you a favor like that, don’t forget to at least offer to top off his coffee cup with some fresh brew from your thermos. Sometimes, when the fishing is hot and heavy, you’ll find plenty of spare holes from anglers who have already left the scene with their buckets filled with fish. You’ll need a long-handled ice skimmer to remove the slush as it forms in your holes.
An underwater camera is a true luxury. They are a blast to watch and can be helpful in locating fish and setting the hook when bites are incredibly light, but you can catch plenty of fish without them. Depth finders are much more necessary. If you don’t have one, be prepared to drill more holes because you will be guessing on how deep the water is.
Rods and reels run the gamut from simple $5 sticks with plastic reels to high-modulus graphite rods with multiple ball-bearing reels. The St. Croix Legend rod is the top of the line and is used by the most serious of ice fishermen. Start out on the inexpensive end to see whether you like the sport. To be honest, you cannot go ice fishing with only one rod. You need multiple rods because your stiff, frozen hands won’t be able to tie on any new tiny hooks or jigs if you break one off. If you have more than one set-up, you just switch to a new rod. Spring bobbers that attach to your rod tip are handy things to have. Ice bites are very light, and you may need the additional help to detect them.
For baits, try bringing some of the tiniest ice fishing jigs that the tackle store has in stock. Tungsten jigs are denser than lead jigs and get down deeper than lead much more quickly. Try them if you are catching a lot of small fish. The little guys sit up higher in the water column than the bigger fish and they take the bait before it gets down far enough. You can use pieces of plastic to stick onto the ends of the jigs, but I am a firm believer in using spikes or waxies for sure-fire ice fishing success.
Fishing legend Spence Petros swears by Wedgies, plastic baits that are deadly for panfish through the ice or open water. Wedgies are made and sold by a Racine gentleman named “Plastic Joe” Moreau. They’re available in 40 colors. Spence’s favorites are motor oil and red, plain red, chartreuse and dark purple with gold. Moreau's phone number is 262-554-8830. They are very, very cheap. Tell Joe that Spence sent you.
Where should you fish? The beauty of ice fishing is that you can just look at where others are fishing and then get close to them, within reason, of course. Ice fishermen will let you get much closer to their spots than would open water fishermen. If you got as close to a boat as you can get close to other ice fishermen, fists would start flying. Ice anglers are good guys.
A good reason to only ice fish on waterways that you have fished on during open water season is that you’ll at least have some kind of clue as to depths and structure of the waterway when it is ice covered.
Remember that fish move in shallow when the water starts to become frigid in the late fall. They stay there for a while, until they begin moving out. Just like during open water season, the fish relate to weed and objects for cover. They also use the remaining weeds because of the oxygen they give off.
Fish are spooky under the ice. They can see your shadow and hear and feel the vibrations of your movement. Be stealthy. Often, you’ll need to wait a while after you move to a new spot to give the fish an opportunity to relax and become accustomed to you being in their area.
Now get out there and catch a dinner’s worth of tasty perch, bluegills and crappies. There is nothing tastier than fresh fish taken from the coldest of waters.
Note: Goose hunters have enjoyed a productive season. It comes to an end Jan. 16. Two northern Illinois goose operations that I can wholeheartedly endorse are Captain Bob Rossa’s Migrator Fish Hunt (815-338-8093, www.migratorfishhunt.com) and Jeff Norris’ Come Kill Geese (630-264-1802, www.comekillgeese.com).
• Northwest Herald outdoors columnist Steve Sarley’s radio show, “The Outdoors Experience,” airs live at 5 a.m. Sundays on AM-560. Sarley also runs a Web site for outdoors enthusiasts, OExperience.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.