Following up and down weather through December, it seemed a possibility this might be one of those winters of little or no ice fishing in northern Ohio. But the recent arctic blast changed all that and with forecasts of temperatures below freezing the next several days, ice anglers should be ready to get rid of cabin fever and catch some fish.
Today ice fishing has gone high tech, not only in equipment, but also in clothing. Those anglers who hit the ice several decades ago using spoons and spud bars and simple ice rods deserve plenty of credit.
The sport has progressed immensely since I began catching bluegills while sitting on a five-gallon bucket and using a Schooley reel spooled with 2-pound test line and a small ice bobber on a simple rod. But we caught our share of fish on these outfits. We were hardy in those days with the most progressive clothing being snowmobile suits. And yes I used a spoon to cut holes in the ice while one of the fellas I fished with still used a spud bar. When I got my first ice auger I was thrilled and when I bought a lazer auger I couldn’t believe how easy it was to cut a hole in the ice.
The advancement of electronics and clothing along with one-man shanties has made the sport a lot more bearable. And specialized heaters have replaced the old Coleman lantern we would use to warm our hands.
You can go high-tech with several models of a Vexilar and MarCum, Hummingbird or Lowrance flashers and sonars. A variety of underwater cameras are available, too. Cutting through the ice has become even simpler. Gas augers have advanced over the years, but electronic augers have become favorites because one does not have to mess with gas and new batteries now last longer in cold weather. Some use a 50-volt Lithium battery. Portable ice shanties have improved over the years.
Ice fishing in these parts does not resemble the kind done in the polar regions of the Midwest where mini-houses are put up for months on a lake. Some have many of the comforts of home. There is plenty of thick ice there, that’s why electronic and gas augers are used.
Around here, we hope to get a few weeks and if the weather is right maybe a couple of months of ice fishing. And because many people fish shallower bodies of water, a low-tech or no-tech approach can be utilized and you can still hook into some fun.
But before you venture out for some ice jigging fun, remember safety should always be your primary concern in any outdoor endeavor.
Check with local bait and tackle stores to see what kind of ice has formed on lakes in your area. Remember no two bodies of water freeze the same. Check the ice before going on. Auger holes as you move onto the lake. Use a spud to check it as well as you move along. One year a friend and I checked a pond, which had 8 inches of ice. I took one step onto it and my one leg went through. Ice thickness is not always a measure of how safe it is. If there is no snow cover, wear ice cleats. A fall on the ice can lead to some nasty injuries. Take along a set of ice picks. No one wants to go through the water, but if you do, the picks can help you climb out. Carry a rope along, too. Always be with someone. Take a buddy or two along or if you see other people on the lake, you know help would be available if you need it. Carry your cell phone in a waterproof bag or case.
Dress in layers and use clothes that wick the sweat after you’ve augered a few holes or you move at a quick pace across the ice. Also use water resistant or repellant clothes. You stay dry and warmer. Boots are your choice depending upon how cold your feet get. Some people never seem to get cold feet while others do. There is a variety of good boots on the market. I have a couple of short 2 x4 pieces in my shanty I put my feet on so they are not directly on the ice. It helps keeps them warmer. A good watch type cap is great and a parka type coat with a hood can keep you warm and protected from the wind. A bomber type hat is great, too. I love mine which is lined with rabbit fur.
I use a smaller portable heater which uses a propane tank. I go small because of a one-man portable shanty. I can fish near it with a bare hand and usually keep it fairly warm. Warming hands is its primary use.
Hole hopping is easy with a portable shanty and if properly clothed, one can stay out for hours if desired.
Ice rods today are vastly different from the ones used decades ago. One can find a mini spinning rod similar to what you use during open water. An ultralight or mini spinning reel, spooled with line as light as a half-pound (for super clear water) to possibly three pounds for panfish makes a great jigging combination.
Jig or lure choice is up to you. See what has been successful for other anglers, but having different kinds in your arsenal is a plus. I like both vertical and horizontal jigs.
Just as you do in open water fishing, have different color jigs available. I can remember years when black or a black and red combo was the ticket. Then purple became the preferred color.
Remember, fish can become acclimated to a color. There are times they want a change. Personally I have always liked a jig that is either all pink or has some pink if it is for crappies. A pink Genz bug has been my favorite. Sometimes they prefer the vertical jig and at times, they like a horizontal jig. Orange and chartreuse have always been good colors for panfish. I remember one year getting to fish a large pond that was noted for big bluegills. It had stained water similar to Indian Lake. A vertical orange/chartreuse combination jig that was “pounded” up and down brought one fish after another.
Don’t forget glow jigs. Fishing toward dusk or in stained water, simply “light” these jigs with a special blue light and fish often come charging after them. You can see it on your Vexilar or whatever flasher you use. One year, it was the ticket for nice crappies on Indian Lake.
A number of larval baits are available for tipping your jigs. I usually prefer spikes and will put two or three on a jig. You can use plastics, which do work, but most anglers prefer tipping their jigs with live bait. You can tie a pair of lures to your line about a foot apart. For years I used a Michigan method of tying either a red or black ant (I use them while fly fishing) as my top lure with some kind of jig at the end of the line. Don’t forget you will notice both jigs on your flasher. Be aware of fish darting in on your flasher even at a shallow level. Panfish, especially crappies will do this.
Location is as vital on solid water as it is on open water. If you fish a familiar body of water that has a channel, check both the inside and outside edges. A matter of only a few feet can make a huge difference.
Also look for differences in ice. Snow cover always helps and even your shanty will reduce light penetration.
Always keep your jig and bait above fish. They look up. When you catch your first fish, don’t throw it back right away if it isn’t a keeper. Get your bait quickly back in the water and try to catch another fish or two. Putting a fish back right away may spook a school of fish.
Check the web for ice fishing sites. There is an abundance of helpful information out there.
If you think fish caught in open water taste great, many of us think fish taken through the ice are the best because of the firm filets winter fish produce.