If someone had told me six and a half years ago that I’d be looking forward to ice fishing each year, I’d have thought they were crazy. Ice fishing seemed to be this exotic thing people did in exotic locations like Iceland or Greenland. Or Wisconsin. It was this complex thing where you needed a hut and a special kind of pole and who-knew-what for bait. And how would you know where to put the hole–and how to put it there? No–ice fishing was far too strange a beast for a novice fisherman like myself.
Boy, was I wrong.
Ice fishing has got to be one of the easiest ways to catch a fish I know of. With normal fishing, the problem is all about getting out to the fish. You need to either stand on the shore and hope you can cast far enough, or wade into the river, or get a boat and toodle around looking for the fish that way. With ice fishing, you’re walking on water. No need for a boat or a long cast. You drill a hole wherever you want to drill that hole–wherever you think the fish are. Drill that hole however you drill the hole. Most people have power drills. You can use a hand auger, too. Specialty pole? I don’t think so. You need a stick with about three feet of line on it. A stick that won’t break when a fish is tugging on the other end. Bait? Just your normal trolling spinner will work. Once that’s all in place, you just stand there and jiggle the line some until something bites. When it does, no need to reel–just lift the fish out of the water.
The huts and everything else is all there for comfort. Who needs that? You can pack everything you need in a plastic sled, then walk it out on the water, set up in a few minutes, and then pack it all up when you leave.
It’s true there are some more advanced approaches: you can set traps in the holes, which basically let you fish in multiple holes at the same time. But the traps are simple affairs–wooden crosspieces with a reel and a line attached to them, and a flag that goes up when the reel starts moving. It really is that simple.
Better yet, there’s none of the other crud you sometimes get fishing. No jet skis, for one thing. It’s nice and peaceful and quiet the whole time. (Although I suppose it does get a bit noisy when people with power augers come set up. I’ve only ever used a hand auger.) You can move around as you want–not trapped on a boat (which I don’t mind, but still–it makes it easier for the kids you bring with you. If they get bored, they can run around some). You can ice skate while you’re out, or play on the ice some–until the snow comes, at least. Once the snow’s there, the ice gets really thick, and it can be more of a pain.
This year, it’s been really cold really early, so the ice is already in. Not much snow to worry about yet, and I’m heading out this afternoon for my first trip of the season. Wish me luck!
(The picture there at the top is of my ice fishing mentor-in-chief, Jeff Howatt–who’s one of the stars in the excellent documentary on ice fishing, Hardwater.)