Ice Fishing Basics
Well the lakes in Minnesota are going to freeze over, it's imminent. Whether people like it or not, fishing can only be done through the ice on the 10,000 plus lakes in Minnesota this Winter. A lot of people I know simply
love to ice fish, while others can't wait for the ice to melt. I always ask those of the latter why they don't ice fish, the number one response I get is, "It's dangerous." Well I'd like to help get those people on the ice this
year by telling them what they need to get started, and also precautions they can take to feel and be more safe this Winter.
Ice fishing is a relatively simple and moderately inexpensive sport. All you really need to get started is a spud bar, a bucket, a rod and reel with some line, a few ice fishing jigs, an auger, and some warm clothes for those chilly MN days. If you add a sled, a rope, and a two by four to the mix, you can be completely safe and have a successful day on the lake. Let's start off by talking about the basic needs of ice fishing, then some advanced
tools, and a few tips to help put more fish in the frying pan this ice fishing season.
Safety items first!
A spud bar has nothing to do with potatoes, nor drinking, it's actually a long heavy metal rod with a chisel end. Before the advent of augers, guys used spud bars to make a fishing hole. If you try that now, you will spook fish and make everyone around you very mad. As you walk out on to the lake slam the spud bar down ahead of where you are stepping. If it bounces off the ice, keep walking. If it pierces through, then slowly back up. Keep spudding your way out to the spot you intend to fish and you will never fall through. Strikemaster Corp. makes a 54" spud that does the trick, and it's relatively inexpensive.
People may ask what in the world a person would need rope and a two by four to go ice fishing for. Well a 20 foot piece of rope with a four foot 2x4 tied to the end of it may save someone's life, including your own. This set
up should be tied around your waist and drug behind you while your spudding your way out to your favorite fishing hole. If someone falls in, you can throw the 2x4 to them and help them out, if you fall through, the 2x4 will
catch on the unbroken ice and you can easily climb to safety.
The next item you need to be safe is warm clothing. Dig in the trunk of your car and pull out the emergency snow gear that most MN residents carry, or grab your snowmobile suit and some warm boots and you're good to go. Make sure you are dressed for a chilly day, the weather can change rapidly out there!
Now that you feel safer, grab your kids sled, put a five gallon pail in it, and you've got yourself a highly intricate ice fishing tool! All of your gear can be put inside of either the bucket or the bottom of the sled, and
pulling a sled is a heck of a lot easier than carrying everything from point A to point B. Inside of your five gallon pail should be a rod, it can be anything from a piece of wood with some sewing thread tied to it, to my
preferred weapon of choice, a St. Croix Avid 24" ultra light rod, handled with a Silstar Tiny 20 or T2, spooled with some 4 lb. Berkley Micro Ice. It should also have an small plastic ice scoop, which can be purchased at any
sporting goods store for under $4. The only other thing you need is tackle and bait. For crappies and bluegills I like wax worms or maggots. Perch and walleye love heads from a fathead minnow or common shiner.
Tackle, this is where many ice anglers become baffled. "What works?" "Who makes the right tackle for what I'm fishing for?" These are all questions
that can easily narrowed down. Whether I'm guiding or fishing for fun, there are only three names in tackle I trust. For crappies, bluegills, and perch I
use Custom Jigs and Spins. Rat Finkee's, Ratso's, Shrimpo's, and Demon's are all made by Custom and can be purchased at most sporting goods stores at a
great price, and they catch fish! For perch and crappies I use a size 6, and for bluegills I'll use 1 size 8 or 10. If you have a handful of these jigs in assorted colors I guarantee you'll catch fish! For walleyes I use Glow
Spoons from Phelp's Tackle Co. Blue/glow and chartreuse/glow in ¿ oz. are great choices and always work for me. If you want to save on some bait, you can go with a vertical jigging minnow from Salmo called the Chubby Darter. These lifelike lures are great for both ice fishing and open water and can be jigged with ease for wily walleye, as well as perch and crappie.
You're almost all set up, now all you need is a hole in the ice.. And we don't want to make it with that spud bar. Find your local Strikemaster dealer and get yourself an inexpensive hand auger from Strikemaster. They make the less expensive Mora model, as well as the fast cutting Lazer. All you really need is a 5 or 6 inch cut to fish every species effectively. Whichever you choose
you will be through the ice and fishing in no time.
So you've got some ice fishing in, and you've become addicted like 1000's of us every year. You've decided you want some fancy gear. The first thing you're going to want to get your hands on is a flasher. The only flasher worth
owning in my opinion is the Vexilar FL-18. The Vexilar not only tells me the depth of water I'm fishing, but it also shows me my jig, as well as the fish coming in and out of the cone. The Vexilar can also tell me the depth of the
water below me before I even drill my hole, all I need to do is the clear the snow from a piece of ice, pour some water down, and place the transducer on the ice. This feature takes the hassle out of a lot of unwanted drilling.
Speaking of drilling, are you tired of using that hand auger? To make things more simple I suggest purchasing a Strikemaster power auger. You can get fancy buying the new 224 with a two horse Tecumseh engine, and four blades
to cut through the ice like cheese, or you can buy any of the Lazer series power augers, you'll get the job done in seconds either way.
Warmth is a concern of many people when it comes to ice fishing. If you want the ultimate way to stay warm, invest in a flip style portable ice house.
The Otter is a great house, as is the USL Fish Trap. Both shacks are built on a sled style tub which can easily be towed by hand or behind a vehicle, and flip over so you're fishing in seconds flat. You can stay warm and also be mobile with something like this. If you need the extra warmth you can add a Coleman propane heater to your mix, then your fishing experience is much like being at home. They have a wide variety of heaters so I would shop
around and find something you think you'll be comfortable with.
So now you're into the sport, and you've got the gear, all you want now is to catch some more fish! Panfish are the most sought after species in the Winter. Crappies and bluegills are a blast through the ice, and are
relatively easy to catch. Early in the season I would look in around 20 feet and you can find both fish hanging together many times. They will suspend just off the bottom and contend for food, allowing you to catch a good
variety. Perch are also heavily fished for in MN in the Winter. Deep water breaks are a good choice. Bouncing a spoon with a minnow head off the bottom is a great way of hunting down these tasty critters. If it's the elusive
walleye you're after, sitting on a break in the evenings is your best bet. These are good places to start, and if you know the Summer structure of lakes, you're a step ahead in the Winter.
Now get out there and get yourself and your family set for this ice season. I hope these articles helped you become interested in the sport, if you already are, I hope you can bag a few more this Winter. Just remember to
limit your catch, and only keep enough for a meal. Let's give our children the great resources we've had available to us! Take care and good luck!
Matthew J. Breuer
Northcountry Guide Service
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