Back when I was living in New Jersey when reading about ice fishing in the colder states, I would shudder and say “not for me!” Well, now that I live in one of those colder places — Maine — I am one of the crazy people out there on the ice that I used to think were nuts! Ice fishing is fun and gets you outdoors. It feels good to be outdoors and moving around. People may stop by and see what is biting. We can usually spot deer and moose on shore. Eagles are perched in trees near the lake. Pick a sunny day and pay close attention to the wind, especially if you don’t own an ice shelter. The weather may seem tolerable while you are standing in your driveway but even a small breeze out on a frozen lake can make you miserable.
Make sure the ice is stable and thick. This is not something you want to take chances on. Keep an eye on the weather while you are on the ice also as snow squalls pop up and they can reduce your visibility quite a bit. If a squall occurs and you can’t see, just hunker down and stay put until it passes. You don’t want to be wandering around on a frozen lake and not know where you are headed.
One time we were out ice fishing and everyone noticed a very large dark cloud, along with some thunder and lightning, rolling across the lake. Yes, you can get thunder and lightning in a snowstorm and it’s freaky the first time you experience it. People started bailing off the ice very quickly. You just knew it was going to be bad the way the wind started kicking up. We were at least two miles out on the ice and were very thankful some snowmobile riders came by and carried us ahsore. They had some tow behind sleds and made multiple runs to get everyone to safety. You really should always have a buddy with you in case something unusual happens.
The ice should be 4-6 inches thick minimum for walking on. If you plan on driving a snowmobile or ATV, the ice should be at least 8 inches thick. Some people drive their vehicles out on the ice but that is a lot of weight and we are always reading about a truck going through the ice. Learn to read the ice. Blue to clear is the strongest. If the ice is dark or mottled or the shoreline is cracked and squishy, stay off. The conditions of the ice can change from one area to another so always be aware. Stay away from springs or outflows as ice will be unstable in these areas. Carry an ice spud and use it as a walking stick, constantly poking on the ice in front of you. The ice cracks and booms loudly. Don’t freak out, this is just the ice expanding and contracting with temperature changes. Stay clear of pressure ridges. Pressure ridges are sheets of ice that butt up against each other. Avoid them at all costs. They are as dangerous as a seep spring or outflow area. Make sure you have your fishing license with you also.
Dress warmly, in layers. You will work up a healthy sweat walking out to your spot but once you settle out and stop moving so much, you will start getting cold. Be sure to bring food and water with you also. Some people bring camp stoves and cook up their catch right there on the ice. Sunglasses are essential as the glare is intense on sunny days. You will also get sunburned. Use your judgment to what you will need to walk out onto the ice, ice cleats or snow shoes. Always have ice cleats anyway, they don’t take up much room and you will kick yourself if you need them and don’t have them. Most people have ice safety picks hanging around there necks. If you should fall through the ice and the shock of the water doesn’t kill you first, you slam the picks into the ice and try to pull yourself out. Spread the picks wide and move forward while kicking your feet. You are literally pulling yourself out. Once you get out of the water, roll away from the hole a few times before standing. Get into some dry clothes as soon as possible and seek medical attention. Hopefully, you are not the lone ice fisherman on the lake and some help arrives quickly. Some people also wear life vests.
Pick a good spot and start drilling. Once your hole is drilled, use an ice skimmer to get the ice chips out of the hole. An ice skimmer looks like a kitchen ladle with holes in it to drain the water. For best results, keep the water in the hole free of ice and slush. Take a look into the hole…it’s amazing what you can see down there! There are many types of ice augers, from hand crank to expensive gas or battery-operated models. The Sibereon or Strike Master hand augers are good hand crank augers that my husband has used. Blade sizes vary. Keep those blades sharp or you make more work for yourself. We have previously used the gas and battery-powered augers but have streamlined and simplified our methods. The more stuff you have, the more that you have to carry out on the ice.
If you don’t have an ATV or snowmobile then you can use a drag sled to haul out all of your equipment. We don’t have an ice shack either. We just sit on an inverted 5-gallon bucket and fish. Cover the lid of the 5-gallon bucket with a piece of foam so that your rear end stays warm and you are not sitting on a hard surface. This little bit of luxury will go a long way!
Gear is carried in using the 5-gallon bucket. It holds everything, rods, skimmer, tools, food, and drinks. These buckets were a wonderful invention. I have seen ice shacks decked out with heaters and even televisions. Often it is just simple tent, to block the wind. The heated ice shacks are usually party central on the ice. They will be surrounded by pickup trucks, ATVs, and snowmobiles. We avoid those ice shack areas as that is a tremendous amount of weight in one spot. I don’t care how thick the ice is, we are not driving our truck on it. I will not even go into why you should not be drinking alcohol while ice fishing. I am assuming that if you are a regular SurvivalBlog reader, you have enough brains to figure this out. If you are bringing your dog out with you, put a doggie coat on him. Make sure he has a blanket and can cuddle up on your ice sled when he tires out. Keep him leashed up near you so he doesn’t run onto thin ice and keep his paws ice-free and snow-free. My own dogs would rather stay home on the couch, in a nice, warm house.
You can choose to fish with just a very small rod and reel or you can use tip-ups. Tip-ups are contraptions with some line, a hook and a flag that pops up when a fish is on the line. You can set up your tip-ups and then use also your rod also to increase your chances of catching dinner. Prices of tips and rods vary greatly. As I have previously mentioned to my husband, the fish doesn’t know if he was caught on a cheap rod or an expensive rod. Tip-ups vary in price and quality also. People make beautiful tip-ups here but they come at a high cost. Our friend John made us a really nice tip-up which gets frequent use. If you aren’t catching anything after a bit, pick up your stuff and move to another spot.
For what we catch around here, we use fluorocarbon leader with a size 14 barrel swivel and 6 lb. red Cajun line. You can use any number of jigs depending on the species you are going after or live bait. Red and white combinations, pink or sage tan work well for pan fish. Silver or gold spoons, along with larger orange jigs for trout or salmon. You will also need the usual needle nose pliers, scissors, etc. that you would use for open water fishing. The fishing rods used for the ice are small and can be awkward at first. They are usually 28-32 inches in length and quite flexible. Split shot weights will get your line down the hole quickly.
Once you get a fish on the line, you can just leave it on the ice near you, put it in your 5 gallon bucket or in a live well in the lake. We have had eagles swoop right in and grab a fish that was lying on the ice. They are a majestic sight, but that beauty just took your dinner!
Fish are a cheap and easy source of protein that many folks seem to overlook. Most people think of canned tuna or sardines as a pantry staple. You can stack a lot of fish fillets in the freezer and it doesn’t take up too much space. Fish can also be cooked immediately, canned, pickled, or salted and dried. If you are fishing close enough to the shoreline and it is permitted, you can have a campfire going for warmth and to cook up your fish. My husband and I have been smoking fish for years. When we lived near the beach in NJ we smoked striped bass all the time. Those thick fillets are a dream in a smoker. Now as we are in the mountains, we smoke trout and bass. Smoked fish is delicious!
So get off the couch, dress warmly, go get some fresh air and fish. After a day spent in the cold air, you will sleep like a baby that night! God bless and be safe.
I did not receive any fees, discounts, or merchandise for any products I have mentioned.