Ice is the great equalizer. The frozen surface of a lake is an open court, a level playing field that allows otherwise shore-bound anglers to delve into a lake’s sweet spots, which were accessible only by boat in open water. Anglers that waited on the sidelines for the playing field to solidify, now march into the game waving ice augers, dragging sleds and toting plastic buckets bristling with short fishing rods.
Getting started in ice fishing is relatively easy. With just the basic equipment, anyone can get in the game.
- Bucket – A five-gallon plastic bucket is an ice fisher’s best friend. It serves as fishing chair, tackle box, rod carrier, lunch box, cooler and creel, all in a virtually indestructible container that comes with a handle. A taller, seven-gallon bucket (shown) is even better.
- Ice auger – The manual type with a 6-inch blade is suitable for ice up to 20 inches thick. The hole is large enough to land nearly all species, and it is easy to transport.
- Rod & reel – Short rods are nice because they put you closer to your work, but some of the best ice fishers that I have met used standard rods. Light spinning reels or level-wind reels are both suitable.
- Ice scoop – For removing ice shavings from the hole and keeping the hole free of ice. The metal type also serves as a tool for quickly dispatching your catch.
- Fishing line – Keep it light, 4- to 6-pound test is good for everything except larger species such as northern pike and lake trout.
- Lures – Put together a small tackle box filled with a selection of light jigging spoons, hooks, split shots and small plastic jigs.
- Bait – Trout and yellow perch will hit mealworms, wax worms, night crawlers and commercially prepared baits. A small tube-jig tipped with a worm is always a good choice.
Ice fishing is all about vertical jigging; casting skills do not apply here. Drop the bait or the lure down the hole and either jig it up and down or let it just hang there. A shiny spoon dancing a lively jig is likely to capture the attention of a cruising trout, but a baited hook might be needed to seal the deal. A proven strategy utilizes side-by-side holes, one for jigging, and the other for bait. Jigging can draw a fish in for a closer look but if the jig does not trigger a strike, the fish may discover the bait lying nearby.