I haven’t given up hope for a couple more open-water fishing trips in the next week or two, but I know that I need to start getting ready to go ice-fishing. Following are some things you can do to prepare for the ice season, and also some things you should consider for your ice-fishing in the next few months.
First, and the way most important thing, is to make sure the ice is safe. If there is already another person out there, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. If there are a bunch of people out there and some four-wheelers, you’re probably ok. If someone drove their pickup on the ice, go for it. However, if you’re not sure, you should probably not go out, especially if you have someone with you that you’re responsible for. If you decide to go out, wear a life jacket and drill test holes as you go to measure ice depth. Some folks take a rope with them in case their partner goes through it. If it’s that questionable, don’t go. From personal experience, it’s no fun breaking through the ice.
One of the main things to do, to get ready for ice-fishing, is to make sure the blades on your auger are sharp. Sharp blades go through the ice faster and make less noise, and noise should be avoided as much as possible on early ice that probably doesn’t have much snow on it. Noise spooks the fish.
Make sure your depth finder has a fully charged battery. It’s very frustrating to get on the ice and find your sonar won’t work. A sonar that doesn’t work means you won’t catch as many fish. Just as in open water, sonar will be the difference between a few fish and no fish, and a few fish and a bunch of fish. Vexilar has been the leader in sonar for ice-fishing for a long time and continues to create sonar that meets the needs of any ice-angler.
Start the season with fresh line. When ice-fishing, we often use line that are lighter than we use in open water. When the panfish get finicky, many experienced ice anglers go to the two and three-pound test line, some even go down to one pound test line. That’s pretty thin stuff, and there is no margin for error. If you’re using light line and it’s not in the best of shape, you’re probably going to have problems. Fresh, good, high-quality line is always a good idea and is especially so when ice-fishing.
Make this the year you try some tungsten jigs. It might be hard for some to believe that the material your jig is made from matters, but sometimes it does. Tungsten is much dense than lead, so a sixteenth-ounce tungsten jig is much smaller physically than a sixteenth-ounce lead jig, and much of the time fish prefer a smaller jig, especially when they’re not sure they want to bite. Tungsten fishes heavy, so you can use a heavier jig that looks smaller, and that will put fish in the boat. Mooska and Banana Bug jigs are two tungsten jigs that really caught on the last ice season.
Last thing: Plastic is becoming the go-to thing to tip jigs with. When the action is good, you’ll catch more fish with plastic instead of live bait because plastic is more durable: You’re not re-baiting after every fish or two. Match the plastic to the aggressiveness of the fish. When they’re biters, go with plastic that has more action and bulk, something like an Impulse Slug Bug. When the fish are finicky, less action and less size will be better: Try an Impulse Bloodworm.
The weatherman on my radio just said to expect cold weather in the next few days. I doubt it will be cold enough to make ice, but if it does, I’ll be ready. If you consider what we just talked about, you can be ready for ice-fishing too.
PHOTO CAPTION—Max Clark is a young angler who was ready for action when this big largemouth bass bit his bait under the ice.
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By Bob Jensen