With these warm fall days lingering well into early winter, it’s hard to think about drilling holes through frozen lakes, much less through ice more than 30 inches thick at some of our high-elevation reservoirs. The good news, however, is ice fishing season is just around the corner. While many of the larger Front Range reservoirs are still several weeks away from getting a solid lid, some of the mountain lakes are starting to develop fishable ice. If you’re itching like me to go ice fishing, there are a few things you can do now to prepare for a successful hard-water fishing season.
Breaking the Ice
One of the first things I do each fall is give my auger a thorough inspection to make sure it’s ready to go before my first fishing trip. You’ll want to check the spark plug, mix up a fresh tank of gas with the right oil mixture and fire it up. If the engine isn’t running quite right, you can take it to a small-engine repair shop and have the professionals give it a full tune-up. Lastly, check and sharpen your blades so they are ready to make quick work of drilling through the ice.
The next thing to check is one of the most critical components in landing a fish: fishing line. Depending on how much you fish will determine how often you should change your line. If you’re like me and swap out reels between your ice fishing poles and long poles, now is a great time to spool-up some fresh line on the reels. I like to use 4 or 6-pound fluorocarbon line for most applications. Many of Colorado’s lakes have ultra-clear water, so using light-weight fluorocarbon line works well to conceal line from wary fish – just make sure to adjust your drag accordingly. I like 10-to 15-pound fluorocarbon for lake trout (Mackinaw) setups.
Tackle Your Tackle
If you haven’t done so already, go through your tackle box and see what needs to be replaced or replenished. Are your salmon eggs good to go? Did you replace the “lucky” jig that was stolen by that monster trout last winter? This is a prime opportunity to tie up a dozen more of those jigs. Tying your own jigs is extremely satisfying and it will also save you a few bucks in the long run.
Shelters, Sleds and Sonar
If you have an ice hut (shelter), set it up in your front yard and give it a thorough once over. I like to check to see if there are any repairs that need to be made. If you have a fish finder or flasher, check the batteries to make sure they are ready to go when you hit the ice. I typically will replace the batteries every year just to ensure that all of my electronics are ready when I need them. Finally, be sure to check the rope on your snow sled as well. A sled and a good rope make getting all of your equipment from the truck to the ice much easier.
Play it Safe
One of the last and most important things to check is your safety equipment. First, I like to make sure that my ice cleats are in good shape. I see some nasty falls every year — sometimes I’m the one who falls — so it’s really important to wear a good set of cleats when you’re walking across the ice. Another important piece of safety equipment is your ice spikes. These are small, hand-held ice picks that you can use to pull yourself out of the water, should you happen to fall through the ice. I check to make sure that mine are always with my gear and are easily accessible should I need them in an emergency. I also make sure to have rope, which can be used to assist in any type of rescue situation. A personal flotation device (PFD) is another good piece of equipment to include with your safety equipment. If you bring a PFD with you make sure it is in good working order and that it fits properly. Finally, a must-have piece of equipment, especially in the early ice season, is a spud bar. This is a heavy bar that you can use to test the thickness of the ice before stepping onto a lake or before moving to a new location.
Following these simple tips and making sure that all of your equipment is ready to go, will help you have a safe and successful ice-fishing season. Although it’s easy to get excited and overly anxious this time of year, be very cautious with early ice, as ice thickness can vary from spot to spot until we’ve had several weeks of consistent, freezing temperatures. One last recommendation: If you are an experienced hard-water fisherman, be sure to invite someone to join you on your next outing. This is a great way to introduce someone new to this fun and exciting sport.
Article and photos by Brian Marsh. Marsh is a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and an avid ice fisherman.