When the weather turns cold and the water turns to ice, the shore fisherman is on the same playing field as the boaters. We can all access the same locations on the water. Although a boat fisherman may have a better idea of where the structure is under the water, there is nothing stopping you from going out to his "honey hole".
Always practice safety and common sense when you venture out onto the ice. It can turn from a nice day into a blizzard in minutes, so always expect the unexpected. Following a few simple rules and you can make your trip much more enjoyable.
Never go ice fishing alone.
Always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back.
Learn to read the ice conditions.
Check with local residence regarding ice thickness and accessibility.
Dress in layers.
Take a length of nylon rope to assist in pulling someone out of the water.
Never walk up to a spot where someone has fallen in, instead, throw them a line tied to a peice of wood.
Keep water proof matches in a water proof container. A cold lighter won't lite.
Keep a change of close with you in case you do get wet and need to change.
Whenever you venture onto the ice, there's a remote chance of going through. To increase the odds of staying dry, learn to spot the danger zones.
Look for gray streaks in the snow or water seepage on top the ice to identify where new cracks are. Once you've identified where the crack is, carefully approach the crack to see if it's safe to cross. ALWAYS CROSS AT A 45 DEGREE ANGLE. This will allow the weight of the vehicle to be distributed more evenly over the ice.
Snow cover on ice acts as an insulation. This will cause the water underneath it to freeze much slower.
Pie Shaped Cracks
On thinner ice, under 16 inches, a pie shaped crack can give way like a trap door and flip back up over top of you, trapping you underneath it.
Also referred to as a Pressure Ridge. These form when the warmer weather causes the ice to retract and break along weaker spots causing large cracks. Then when the weather cools, the ice expands, forcing the two ice sheets together. When they collide, the ice is forced up.
Strong winds early in the season break up the ice into large chunks. After it cools down, ice forms between the pieces. Watch for week spots around these chunks early in the season.
You know where those boats anchor off shore just out of reach of your cast, it's a good place to start. Although fish do move to other locations in the winter then there traditional summer spots, most boats anchor over a structure. These structures will often hold fish in the winter as well.
Look for birds flying around on the ice. Fisherman will often leave damaged or unused bait on the ice where they were fishing, and this makes for an easy meal for birds that are searching for food. If a spot is fished regularly, the birds will return looking for food even if no one has been there for a few days, based on past success with finding food at a location.
Close to shore where there's weeds or a drop off. A transition from one type of shoreline to another is a great place to drill your holes.
Out on the lake, the edges of sand bars usually hold a lot of pan fish. If your lucky, you'll catch a larger fish that's feeding on the fish that are around the sand bar.
Around islands you'll usually find some fish. Be careful that there isn't too strong of a current going through that may make the ice thinner. This can really be an issue if the island is close to shore, causing a narrowing of the normal flow of water, which will increase the current.
Let's talk shelter. There are a lot of good portable shelters out there for a few hundred dollars. They are worth the investment if you plan on fishing quite often. If you don't wish to make the investment, a wind break will do under most conditions. A beach tent that sets up easily and is open on one side is one alternative. A lot of anglers will build a shack out of wood on skies to pull out to their favourite fishing spot. A little more work, but a nice way to spend the day on the water with friends out of the elements. If you make a shelter, check the regulations for owner information that may need to be on it as well as for when it needs to be off the ice. It would be pretty nasty for our environment if people just let them sink in the water and wash up on shore.
A power auger is great if you can afford it. With a power auger, you can drill a lot of holes in a short time, which will give you the advantage of being able to move around if you have a dead hole. You can also stagger your holes so that you can fish at many different depths easily. If not, cheaper hand augers are available. The size of the auger blades you use will depend greatly on the type and size of fish your after. Remember that with a hand powered auger, the bigger the blades, the harder it is to drill the holes. The harder the holes are to drill, the less holes you will drill and the less mobility you will have. It's also good to have a hatchet with you in case the ice is thicker then the auger is deep. You may also be able to get an extension for your auger.
Lets get hooked. A good bet would be any vertical jigging lure. Ther are some great new ones on the market. Since we don't have a sponsor, we do not promote any one brand. One old stand by is a jig with a minnow. Although in most cases the bigger fish go for the bigger lures, I was at an ice fishing tournament where a gentleman caught the winning fish, a 20 plus pound northern pike, on a green jig tipped with a minnow. Other good choices are standard jigging rigs with two hooks suspended on a line, or a leader with a treble hook on the clasp and a treble hook floating on the wire so you can hook it to both ends of a large bait. Some old pros don't believe in the fancy stuff, they twist a piece of copper wire around a treble hook, then to another one, then together in the middle, forming an upside-down "T". Once it is joined, you take a large line weight and bend it together over the middle. The center join is used to slip through the middle of the bait, then attached to the line. You are really only limited by your imagination when it comes to what lure to use, or what bait to put on.
I have seen many people use the rods they fish with in the summer for ice fishing. They just stick the butt of the rod into snow at about a 60 degree angle, then throw water on the snow to turn it into ice. As a child when we went on the ice, we just stopped in a ditch close to the lake and cut some willow branches. Then you just had your line wrapped around a board cut like an "H", and once you put your line in at the proper depth, you simple wrapped it around the tip of the branch and stuck the line holder into the snow. However, there are a number of great ice fishing rods on the market that are short, and strong, and perfect for jigging. These new rods are so sensitive, that you can really improve your chances of catching a fish when it's nibbling. There are also ice fishing rod holders that work great. Some attached to pails while others sit on the ice.