Ice Fishing Tips for Beginners
Learn a few of our cherished ice fishing tips, from tip ups to ice houses.
Ice houses are a cozy way to enjoy ice fishing.
Photo By Shutterstock/Anson
When winter freezes the outdoor world solid, it’s not necessarily time to hole up by the fireplace. Believe it or not, it’s possible to remain warm, find a frozen body of water, and maybe even catch something for dinner.
Ice fishing presents an opportunity to enjoy the quiet restfulness of winter while still being productive. Many people picture the pastime as a bunch of daft individuals hunkered over dark holes in the ice for hours on end, or even the crazier ones who bring recreational vehicles, complete with satellite dishes and heaters, onto frozen lakes as wintertime housing. The good news is no matter what, if you prepare ahead, you’ll have a fantastic time.
Ice fishing tips for thin ice
The most important aspect of ice fishing is knowing when the ice is safe.
“A lot of people say four inches, but I feel a lot more comfortable when it’s six inches,” says John Fraley, information officer for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks who likes to ice fish in his spare time.
Bryan Newman, who frequently fishes during the winter around his home in Sugar Run, Pennsylvania, says, “Look for blue or clear ice. That’s what I like to see. And I drill test holes just to make sure.”
It usually takes a few weeks of temperatures staying in the 20s to form good ice, and longer if your daytime temperatures warm to above freezing. If you’re not sure how quickly the ice is setting up that year, look for other people fishing. Fraley says when you see groups of people out there on a regular basis, it’s a pretty good bet the ice is sound.
Even so, you must always be alert. Ice can often be thin along the edges of the water, and you need to be vigilant about underwater springs and pressure ridges — compression ruptures that occur when the ice heats during the day — because both of these are weak spots. Years ago, my husband, Grant, was fishing on a reservoir that had 19 inches of solid, clear ice. He noticed something underneath the ice, and walked over to investigate. Without warning, he fell through the thin layer of ice formed over the area where a spring bubbled underneath. Thankfully, the ice around the hole was strong enough to hold him as he pulled himself out of the water, but that’s a situation best avoided altogether.
For added precaution, many people wear life vests and carry poles to be able to assist themselves — or others — if they end up in the icy water. It’s also wise to have sturdy rope handy, in order to throw it to a person in trouble.
Most of the time, Fraley recommends against bringing vehicles out on the ice. On very large bodies of water, an ATV might be useful, and they’re usually fairly safe when the ice is roughly 10 inches thick, but it’s hard to see the weak spots if you’re traveling quickly. And trucks are more problematic. Although there are ice fishermen who safely take large vehicles on the ice in the Northern states, there are stories every year about them falling through, oftentimes with people inside. Err on the side of caution when it comes to ice safety.
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