Category Archives: Ice Fishing

Fishing when the water is hard on top

Success During Late Ice

Increase Your Success During Late Ice
from The Fishing Wire

Late ice fishing is good


Photo courtesy of Aqua-Vu
Four Late-Winter Tips for Catching More Panfish

Seek, Drill and Stay Mobile for Late Ice Crappies. In smaller, shallower lakes, crappies are typically located and caught throughout much of the winter season over main-lake basins. In large, deep lakes, however, they tend to avoid the deepest areas and use flats, humps and basins ranging from 20 to 40 feet deep. But crappies are also notorious for suspending. Depending upon conditions, they can be found anywhere in the water column, creating an additional variable in the angling equation.

As the ice-fishing season nears its end, crappies transition from deep water wintering areas towards shallow bays, channels and river mouths in preparation for spawning. Depending on where and when you fish, concentrations of crappies will be present along a relatively straight line between these distinct areas.

During the late-ice period, take a stab at identifying some of these likely travel paths between wintering areas and spawning areas on the lake you plan to fish using the Fishidy app or map on your Sonar/GPS. Look for potential staging locations where cover, structure or current variations are present along those paths.
Once you’ve identified attractive areas, gas up the auger and get to work. Use your GPS to confirm your location on the ice, and pick a variety of sweet spots over the particular structure you plan to fish. A larger fishing party is beneficial because you can share the work of drilling holes and checking them for fish with sonar. Once you mark fish, take the time to drill more holes. It’ll save you time in the long run as you’ll waste less time fishing an unproductive hole when an entire school may be located just 10 or 15 feet away.

Once the crappies are located, hole hopping is the key to keeping busy catching them. Anglers willing to leave the comfort of their fish houses and use their electronics to fish from hole to hole are the ones who catch the most crappies. Keep moving if a hole doesn’t show a fish on your sonar. Keep drilling more holes if necessary until you get a sonar return. Then drop down, catch a fish or two and move on once the action slows.

Fish Fast for Late Ice Crappies. Crappies display a variety of moods, and their responsiveness to various presentations can change throughout the day – often rapidly. Late-ice crappie anglers should be prepared with a variety of offerings, from small tungsten jigs tipped with thin plastics to relatively large jigging spoons tipped with spikes, waxes or minnow parts. The key is being prepared and willing to show fish a variety of presentations and profiles to determine which one best matches their mood at that moment. Then it becomes a game of presenting the preferred bait to numbers of fish, which means moving on quickly from barren holes.

When a fish shows on sonar, try stopping the bait 4 to 5 feet above it and slowly working it down if necessary. You’ll often see the fish begin drifting up towards your bait immediately. If they do, slowly raise the bait while twitching it ever so slightly to make them chase it. Once you get them moving, they’ll usually charge it. If they refuse it, it’s time to try a different bait.

Fishing fast means fishing heavy. Getting down to a fish fast — hopefully before it leaves — is critical to maximizing opportunities. Tungsten jigs sink fast while retaining a delicate profile, and are the best choice when crappies show a preference for smaller offerings. Jigging spoons are great options anytime crappies are aggressive and eager to attack a larger profile. They easily punch through slushy holes and get back down to other fish quickly once one has been caught.

Turkey Baster Panfish?. One surefire strategy for determining the types of wintertime foods preferred by bluegills, perch and crappies is to take a living, breathing sample. Fly fishermen use a small stomach pump (resembles a miniature turkey baster) on stream trout in order to match the hatch. It works with panfish, too, and it’s completely harmless to fish, other than depriving them of recent eats.

Fill the pump with water with a quick squeeze, insert the tube into the fish’s mouth and a few inches down its pharynx, which leads directly to the stomach. Be gentle! Squirt the water into the stomach and release the pump, which vaccums up any recently ingested critters. Squirt said contents into your palm and have a looksee.

A fish’s recent meals reveal the anatomical details of each eaten bug, as well as plenty of the goo that represents zooplankton and other partially digested “whatnot.” You also learn potentially productive lure colors, and can quickly tie on something you know panfish will want to eat. Identifying specific prey items also suggests fruitful jigging cadences. Mayfly larva, for example, swim with undulating tail kicks that can be mimicked with various soft plastic baits.

The Strength of the Snell. While most ice anglers rely on one or two favorite knots, the truth is you can do a lot better than an improved clinch, Trilene or other customary line-to-jig connection. If you’ve never tried a snell knot, including versions such as the Marka knot or a Uni-Snell knot—you’re missing out on a ton of advantages for almost any jig presentation, particularly for panfish jigs and ultra-thin mono or fluorocarbon lines. Actually, the advantages of a well-tied snell overwhelm those of traditional knots.

One, a snell knot positions your jig at the ideal horizontal position—no need to reposition your knot, ever. Two, the knot is recessed and tied around the shank of the hook, so it rarely requires retying (you can often fish most of an 8-hour day with the same snell knot and jig.) Three, snell knots are almost bulletproof-strong. Finally, the knot itself acts as a form of soft plastics keeper, pinning the chosen bait tight to the jig collar. The plastic further protects the knot by sliding right over the top of it. Moreover, you can tie either version with traditional eyelet jigs, or Russian “through-head” jigs. Here’s a link to a few top ice jig knots (see #3, #6A and #6B).

About Fishidy:

Fishidy is a location-based fishing app and online community of over 1 million users that features interactive mapping technology, data-rich fishing maps, and social networking to help anglers identify the most productive water and head straight to the action. Users discover shared catches and local Fishing Hot Spots®, stay up-to-date with the latest fishing reports, and find detailed waterway information so that they are fully prepared for their next fishing trip. Learn more at fishidy.com.

Can You Catch Bass Under Ice?

Bass Under Ice
from The Fishing Wire

you can catch bass under ice


Underwater optics reveal the hardwater habits of America’s #1 sportfish

Crosslake, MN – A certain notion says bass don’t much care for the cold. That when winter arrives and seals lakes with ice, big green and brown bass skulk about, but certainly don’t care to bite.

Right?

Well, the actual truth is, a small group of exploratory anglers in Minnesota and Ontario have been quietly going about the business of bassin’ through augered holes in frozen lake surfaces. They’ve lipped plenty of largemouth and smallmouth bass. Big ones, too. But perhaps more importantly, the exploratory anglers have proved a few notions of their own, thanks largely to underwater optics documenting the antics of frigid water bass.

Mike Hehner, photographer and producer for Brainerd, Minnesota based Lindner Media Productions has been on the forefront of the hardwater bass movement. Hehner, as well as Ontario angler Aaron Wiebe, believe winter bass are worthy of more angling attention due to the species’ sporting qualities. But both anglers also beg for careful conservation, catch-and-release and selective harvest of small specimens only.

“Honestly, you can catch some of the biggest largemouths of the year right in the middle of winter,” says Hehner. “Winter bass can be pretty stacked up if you find them in the right places. They’ll feed relatively competitively, though they won’t strike as aggressively as they’ll hit say, a spinnerbait in summer.”

“Because winter bass like to hide and hunker down in cover just like they do in summer, I’ve always got my little handheld underwater camera—an Aqua-Vu micro Revolution—along for the ride. The camera shows fish in true-life color, while sonar can have a tough time picking up fish signals between aquatic plants.”

Debunking and perhaps confirming long-held conceptions in equal measure, Hehner reveals some of his more surprising underwater discoveries, and offers a few suggestions.

Winter bass usually feed best from midday until about an hour before sunset. “On camera, they’ll often sort of vanish from shallow vegetation areas as the sun begins to drop in the sky.”
Look for active largemouths around healthy pondweed, cabbage, elodea and mixtures of different plant varieties. “Bass often frequent these shallow zones to hunt small sunfish, so seeing sunnies or crappies on the camera screen can be a tip-off that bass are also present.”

Avoid water deeper than 20 feet. “Smallmouths, in particular, will especially seek out deeper winter locations, where they congregate and form massive schools. Pulling them out of deeper water causes barotrauma (rapid expansion of the swim bladder that creates hyper-buoyancy and an inability to remain submerged.)

Just as in summer, bass exhibit different moods on different days.

Use the temperature gauge on the Aqua-Vu to find the most active bass. “We look for warmer 39- to 41-degree water under the ice, which often holds the biters.”
Immediately release all bass in extra cold temperatures (below about 20oF.) In lakes with ample populations of small and medium size bass, consider harvesting some fish less than 15-inches, while recycling all larger bass.

Big bass willingly bite panfish-size plastics. One to 2.5-inch worm-like baits on small tungsten jigs work very well.

Best to find larger concentrations of shallow bass. “If I see just one or two bass in an area with the camera, I might not catch them. But if I find a concentration of five to ten fish, there’s a great chance bass will be competitive enough to bite.”

“One of the best baits is a live 3- to 5-inch shiner minnow tethered to a #1 wide gap hook. We’ve found it’s best to restrict the minnow’s movement by anchoring it slightly in place with split shot. If the minnow gets too wild, bass can lose interest and stop chasing.

Use the camera as a fish-attractor. “Lots of times we’ll see bass come right up to the camera. Occasionally, they’ll bite the camera head. If you don’t see bass around at first, leave the camera down there for a minute or so; any curious bass in the area will likely swim over to inspect it.”

Use the camera to sight fish. “This is what makes winter bass fishing so much fun. It’s incredible to watch bass chase, nip and bite your baits. Also, use it as a hookset gauge. If you’re using livebait, and the bass has the minnow in its mouth, set the hook immediately—don’t wait until the bait gets swallowed too deep.”

“It’s amazing that a fish with such a large mouth can pick tiny baits to pieces. We often see them nipping just the last ¼-inch of a minnow’s tail, or just barely mouth the head of a jig, without engulfing the hook. How do they do that?”

“Bass are a lot more active under the ice—all winter long—than most folks realize,” says Hehner. “Chasing them and getting them to bite is incredibly fun with an underwater camera. And you learn a ton. Winter days on most lakes—even with dozens of other anglers around— rarely is anyone else paying attention to what might be the best big fish game in town. Amazing.”

About Outdoors Insight, Inc.

Creator of Aqua-Vu, the original Underwater Viewing System, Outdoors Insight, Inc. has led the underwater camera category in design, innovation and quality since 1997. The Central Minnesota based company builds many popular outdoors products, such as the iBall Trailer Hitch Camera (iballhitchcam.com) and Odor Check Moisture and Odor Control System (odorcheck.com) featuring Scent-Lok Technology. For more information on Aqua-Vu, visit www.aquavu.com.

Success on the Ice

Measuring Angler Success on the Ice

Ice fishing success


By Ron Wilson, North Dakota GFD
from The Fishing Wire

Erica Sevigny has heard her share of fishing stories this winter.

As a winter creel clerk for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department on Lake Audubon, Sevigny knocks on ice house doors to ask ice anglers a few simple questions about their fishing trip.

“I haven’t run into anyone who wouldn’t answer my questions,” said Sevigny, a North Dakota State University graduate who has worked with the Department’s wildlife division in summers past. “Some of them, especially if they catch a fish when I’m there, don’t want me to leave because they think I’m good luck.”

As luck would have it, at least for those anglers who consider Sevigny a lucky charm, Game and Fish will continue its winter creel survey on the popular fishery in central North Dakota until the end of March, or whenever anglers can no longer venture onto the ice safely to fish.

The Game and Fish Department conducts a creel survey in summer and winter on Lake Audubon every three years. During the open water months, creel clerks interview anglers at the boat ramps as they are leaving after a day of fishing.

When the lake is iced-over, creel clerks take a different approach.

“In winter, the creel clerks travel out on the ice to talk to anglers because there are just so many places to fish on the lake, including Lake Audubon refuge, which is closed to open water fishing,” said Jason Lee, Department district fisheries supervisor in Riverdale. “They’ll work a certain area on a certain day, or a couple areas on a certain day. What they’re trying to get is complete trip information, rather than just interviewing someone who has been fishing for 15 minutes or a half-hour.”

Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader, said there are three components – fish, habitat and anglers – to a North Dakota fishery, Lake Audubon included.

“As anglers are one of the main components of a fisheries management plan, we on occasion want to sample these people to gather information on fishing pressure, the number of fish caught, released and total harvest,” Gangl said. “Creel surveys are another monitoring tool that allows us to gather information that helps in the management of a fishery.”

The angler interviews are short, simple and to the point. Sevigny asks anglers what species they are primarily fishing for, how long they’ve been fishing, zip code and what they’ve caught.

“If those anglers interviewed have fish that they’ve caught, the creel clerks ask if they can measure them, which is information that we’ll compile at the end of the year,” Lee said. “This information tells us, for example, the biggest fish they catch and keep, or the smallest fish they catch and keep.

“During the open water creel survey on Audubon, for example, we learned that 88 percent of the northern pike and smallmouth bass caught were released,” Lee added. “And with walleye, 50 percent were released, I suspect because they were smaller fish they didn’t want to keep. This kind of information is interesting to fisheries biologists managing the fishery.”

With the promise of several more weeks of winter and little idea how things will unfold weatherwise, Lee said Mother Nature has so far made it easy for anglers and creel clerks to access Lake Audubon.

“The more interviews the creel clerks can conduct, the better our catch-rate information,” Lee said. “We try to randomize to some degree when we’re out checking on anglers to get a look at the entire fishing day, rather than just focusing on the sundown walleye bite.”

Anglers, no matter the time of day their ice fishing outing started, are also asked to rank the quality of their trip.

“This gives us an overall idea of how well they’re enjoying their fishing experience,” Lee said. “Without their help in the creel survey, we wouldn’t have any of this valuable information. In general, anglers have been great about taking a few minutes out of their trip, or at the end of their trip, to talk to creel clerks about what they caught, their experiences and if they harvested any fish.”

While North Dakota’s more popular waters, such as the Missouri River System, Lake Audubon and Devils Lake, are surveyed routinely, but not every year, Gangl said the Game and Fish Department will survey other smaller waters when questions need to be answered.

In 2015, for example, a winter creel survey was initiated in the south central part of the state to learn, among other things, who was fishing, where they were from, and what they were catching.

Instead of a lake specific survey, the survey was based in a region where biologists could travel from lake to lake, depending on where the hot bite was happening, to interview anglers.

At the time of the survey, Gangl said: “What we’re after is the size, catch rates, species and the quality of the fishing experience. Are anglers keeping medium-sized fish, small fish, only big fish, and what is their preference?”

No matter the location of the creel survey, or time of year, Gangl said the opportunity to simply talk with anglers, to put a face with the agency managing the fisheries, is important.

“A big benefit is that we, as an agency, get to interact with the angling population on things other than biology,” he said. “We learn how far anglers are traveling to fish certain waters and we get to gauge their satisfaction. We don’t have a lot of control over what makes people happy, but they are generally happy when they are catching fish.”

Tips for Mid-Season Ice Fishing

Four Tips for Mid-Season Ice Fishing Success
from The Fishing Wire

Changes in strategy can put more fish on the ice during the mid-winter blues.

MADISON, WI – After the rush to punch holes during first-ice, hot bites tend to cool off. Many ice anglers are left scratching their heads. Some call it the mid-season blues and leave it at that, but there are a number of tactics that can help adaptive anglers ice more fish, despite changes in fish behavior. All it usually requires is a change in approach.

Here are a number of tactics culled from anglers who spend countless hours on mid-season ice and consistently prove the period can be just as productive as first- or late-ice.

Big Walleye through the ice


Photo courtesy of St. Croix Rod

WALLEYES & PERCH—UNCONNECTED, OFFSHORE STRUCTURE

For walleyes and perch, look for offshore, unconnected structure from the shoreline—humps, reefs, crowns, etc. Bigger, more dramatic structures are usually better because they exhibit more nuances and, therefore, tend to hold more fish. That said, smaller isolated structures—tiny humps or rock piles—will still often hold fish, just not as many, so don’t overlook them. Ideally, find larger, offshore structure that’s adjacent to a flat, not a super-hard no-man’s-land break. Such flats provide a cruising area for fish and a comfortable approach to the structure. Look for depths in the 30s or 40s that shift into the 20s at the structure, keeping in mind that the deeper the tops of the structure, the longer the bites will last. Also, you want a larger structure crown—ideally, a big, flat crown with some mixed habitat perhaps including rock on one side, a slow taper on one side, and another side with a hard break. This means you can maximize your time by investigating a lot of different situations on one piece of structure.

From a mapping perspective, a mobile app like Fishidy is indispensable, which features mapping layers, contour lines, structure/vegetation, and Fishing Hot Spots. This can help you eliminate 90% of unproductive water from the get-go, saving time and energy. Then, once structure is located with the app, run the perimeter of that structure with your ATV, snowmobile, or vehicle to get a better picture of that structure’s area and pre-drill all your holes before ever dropping a line. It could be six holes or it could be 30, but you want to make sure you hit the entire piece of structure. If there’s fresh snow, all you need to do is follow your tracks around the structure as you fish or use your Fishidy app. And remember to drill three holes in each location—one on top of the structure, one on the break, and one off the break in deeper water. If someone gets on a bite, be prepared to drill a second sequence of holes in that spot, so keep your auger close while fishing.

WALLEYES—FIND GREEN WEEDS

Walleyes aren’t always out roaming the flats and reefs chasing shiners; a lot of times they’re in the weed beds snatching up young of the year bluegills and crappies. Savvy anglers know that not all weed beds die off in the winter, particularly coontail and some cabbage. Finding green weeds can be more challenging during the mid-season, but can still be accomplished with the help of hi-tech mapping and sonar, a tool like the Fishidy app, or the use of an Aqua-Vu underwater camera.

Once green, standing weeds are located, catching walleyes typically becomes a matter of working the holes and corners of the bed.

This is where tip-ups come into play, because you might be really stretched out. You may find a hole in the weed bed that’s 300 feet away from where you’re jigging. That said, green weed beds can be a great place for family fishing. Use lots of tip-ups and jig sticks to cover the most area possible, and a family or group can enjoys some banner mid-season days on the ice!

In summary, the magnetism of weeds doesn’t change throughout the winter. If anything, the remaining green weeds become super congregating areas for fish during mid-season, holding more fish in less area.

MID-SEASON LARGEMOUTH BASS

Don’t overlook the fun that largemouth bass can present during mid-season. A good place to find them is on the giant, shallow-to-mid-depth flats in bays or the mouths of bays adjacent to spring spawning areas. Green weeds are not a prerequisite in these areas, but if you find them, it’s game on. Contrary to what many believe, bass feed continuously throughout the winter and are not turned off at all. In terms of presentation, it’s tough to beat live bait on tip-ups in this application, like a shiner or sucker. Also consider hobbling the bait by cutting a fin or gills so the bass don’t have to chase it. Bass will also readily hit jigging spoons and even small jigs tipped with waxies or spikes like those used to target blugills and crappies.

WALLEYES—RATTLE BAITS

Mid-season ice fishing success doesn’t have to involve live bait. In fact, some artificial presentations—in the right circumstances—can outperform live bait. Jigging minnows and lipless rattle baits can be formidable weapons, and the latter is a real superstar in just about any mid-season situation because it fishes myriad depths, from shallow to deep. Something like a LIVETARGET lipless rattlebait fished on Seaguar braid with a fluorocarbon leader produces an ideal combination of strength, sensitivity, natural falls, and easy hooksets.

Cadence is key. The free-fall is especially important with rattle baits; you’ve got to limp line the bait down so it does everything it’s supposed to do without forcing it to have an unnatural wobble on the descent. Because the body profile of rattle baits is so natural, a lot of times fish will hit them on a dead stop with no movement. You can literally have one sitting motionless for a minute or more and a walleye will come up and hit it. The silhouette—even at a standstill—resembles young-of-the-year fish that spend much of their time barely moving, almost in suspended animation.

If walleyes are approaching small bluegills or crappies at dusk in the weeds and the panfish are shut down and the walleyes are still active, they are used to motionless prey. So, your jigging cadence doesn’t always have to be wild or active. Experiment with slower movements and even dead-sticking.

Ice Fishing How-to from North Dakota DFG

Ice Fishing How-to from North Dakota DFG
by Ty Stockton, North Dakota DFG
from The Fishing Wire

Fishing in North Dakota has never been better. The state boasts 22 species of game fish and 449 bodies of water where anglers can wet a line.

Quite a few of those fishing holes are relatively new. Since the early 1990s, when a long drought ended and a wet cycle began, previously dry lakes filled, and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocked many of these new waters with fish.

“At least 50 of those new lakes are producing good walleye,” said Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries division chief.

A strange thing happens when a new lake is formed. Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader, said the technical term for the fertility of a new body of water is “trophic upsurge.”

Walleye grow fat on this food in North Dakota


With a menu of scuds, fathead minnows and other prey, walleyes stocked in North Dakota’s new prairie lakes grow rapidly.

“It’s an explosion of nutrients, insects and resources fish thrive on,” he said. “When you flood vegetation or soil that had been dry, the nutrients are released into the water. Insects feed on these nutrients, and minnows – mostly fathead minnows in North Dakota – eat the insects, and this provides a fantastic food source for predatory fish, like walleyes.”

Because of this trophic upsurge, walleyes stocked in these new prairie lakes grow rapidly. Game and Fish fisheries biologists compile data on walleyes throughout the state, including growth rates. They’ve found that the average walleye in traditional waters, such as Lake Sakakawea, Lake Oahe or Lake Tschida, is 6 inches long at the end of the first growing season; 10 inches after two growing seasons; 14 inches after three seasons; and 16 inches after four seasons.

By contrast, walleyes in the nutrient-rich new prairie lakes, such as Sibley (Kidder County), Lehr WMA (McIntosh County), Kraft (Sargent County) and Twin Lakes (LaMoure County), are 9 inches at the end of the first season; 14 inches after two seasons; 16 inches after three seasons; and 18 inches after four seasons.

With walleyes growing faster in these new prairie waters, anglers have good opportunities to catch good-sized fish within a few years of the lakes being established. “Our strategy is to stock the heck out of those waters,” Gangl said. “If there are enough minnows, sometimes you can’t put enough fish in them to get the fathead populations down enough to let the fish get hungry, so we stock those waters with as many fish as we can.”

This means there are potentially more good-sized walleyes in the lakes than the minnow populations will comfortably feed. This in turn means plenty of fish under the surface are hungry enough to take the bait offered to them by an enterprising angler. In short, it’s a recipe for a good bite.

The fish stocked in these lakes don’t grow to catchable-size right away?– and in fact, walleye aren’t stocked immediately after lakes flood. Once a lake is established, fisheries biologists evaluate its viability. Among the considerations are the length of time it will likely hold water, the number of minnows it holds, and whether it can be accessed by the public.

“We can stock a lake if we have good, legal public access,” said Paul Bailey, Department south central fisheries district supervisor. “It might be a section line or a road, but often we get easements from willing landowners.”

Even after all of that, walleye are not usually the first fish stocked.

“We stock perch first,” Bailey said. “Perch deposit their eggs on flooded vegetation, so they do well in those newly flooded lakes.”

The perch serve two purposes, Power said. They provide another game fish for anglers to target, and they become an intermediate food source for growing walleyes when the larger, predatory fish are released into the lakes.

Once the forage base is established, either through minnows that naturally occur in the waters or perch that are trapped and transported from other waters in the state, walleyes are stocked in the lakes. The walleyes come from the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, and they’re mostly stocked as 1- to 2-inch fingerlings, though a few waters receive nearly microscopic fry (the developmental stage immediately following the fish hatching from their eggs).

From there, managing the fishery is a balancing act. If a lake has too many minnows, they outcompete perch for forage, and perch numbers decline. Also, when minnows provide more than enough food for walleyes to eat, they are not as interested in taking an angler’s lure.

If walleye populations grow too quickly, fathead minnow numbers start to dwindle. That’s where anglers enter the management picture.

“Anglers help with the predator-prey cycle,” Gangl said. “If we don’t have enough anglers fishing a certain water, the walleye populations get too big, and they bring down the minnow populations. We need anglers to take some fish out of the lakes, so the minnow and walleye populations remain balanced.”

Winter is a great time to find some of those hungry walleyes, too. Some of the newer lakes lack boat ramps, so the only way to get out to the middle of those lakes is to get there on the frozen surface.

So check with your local bait store or online ice fishing forum to find where the big ones are biting. You’ll not only have a good chance to put some fryers in the pan, you’ll also help Game and Fish keep the predator-prey balance to ensure these waters continue to provide good fishing opportunities for years to come.

NORTH DAKOTA FISHING WATERS
YEAR NUMBER OF FISHABLE WATERS
1950 30
1963 150
1971 110
1980 139
1990 186
2000 208
2010 340
2012 365
2017 449

Forage and Other Factors
The Facebook post from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department says there are thousands of walleye in the lake you like to fish, so you grab your tackle and beat feet for the water. But when you get there, you try every lure in your tackle box, cast into 43 different likely spots, but you don’t get so much as a single bump on the end of your line.

What gives? Is this some sort of Candid Camera moment? Are you the butt of some cruel YouTube video, being laughed at as the most gullible angler in North Dakota?

Not at all. The netting surveys and other measures Game and Fish biologists use to monitor fisheries are good indicators of the numbers of fish below the surface. But the fact that there are a lot of fish in a lake doesn’t necessarily mean those fish will take an angler’s lure. There are a lot of factors that affect the bite.

“If the fish are well-fed from natural sources, they might not get into the bite,” said Scott Gangl, Department fisheries management section leader. On the flip side, “if you have a great bite, it indicates a lack of natural forage.” That forage, for the most part, is fathead minnows.

But Gangl said other factors play into the bite, as well.

“Weather patterns play a part,” he said. “When you see fronts rolling in, the fish may bite – or they may stop biting. Weather plays a role, but it’s not necessarily consistent.” He said as weather changes, you may see a change in fish activity.

Another weather-related factor is water temperature. Certain species of fish are adapted for different water temperatures. Trout are cold-water fish, so the colder the water, the more active they become. Walleye are cool-water fish, so as the water temperature drops they may become more active to a certain temperature, then settle down as the temperature continues to drop.

“Early ice is usually popular,” Gangl said. “The water’s still cooling, but it hasn’t gotten as cold as it’s going to get. As the temperature drops, the fish’s metabolism slows, and after the ice has been on for a while, and the water is colder, you might get that midwinter lull in activity.”

Gangl said he’s been fishing and has seen lots of fish on his Vexilar, but none of those fish would take his lure. “Sometimes it just happens like that,” he said. “There are obviously a lot of fish down there, but none of them are interested in the bait. You might get one to bite from time to time, but it’s pretty slow. Then all of a sudden, it all changes, and you get the rest of your limit in an hour.”

Often, that sudden change hits near sunset, or the fish will bite early in the morning, then suddenly stop as the sun gets higher. Gangl said this could be because walleye are better adapted to hunting in the dark than their prey – fathead minnows – are to seeing danger in darker water.

“It’s a factor of efficiency,” he said. “Fish forage on what is optimum. They try to get the best food they can get with the least amount of energy expended.”

Every fish in every fishery is an individual, so there are no scientific standards for what triggers the bite. You can move to new holes if the fish aren’t biting where you are, and maybe you’ll find a few active fish somewhere else. Or you can sit still and keep fishing, waiting for the conditions to cause the fish to get hungry.

After all, it’s called “fishing,” and not “catching,” for a reason. Greg Power, Department fisheries division chief may have said it best: “Mother Nature’s pendulum does swing wildly and rapidly in North Dakota.”

The best bet is to be in the right place at the right time when that pendulum swings your way.

Ice Fishing Underwater Angling Lessons

Underwater Angling Lessons

Top Ice Fishing Tips Via the Camera Lens

By Ted Pilgrim
from The Fishing Wire

Use a camera for ice fishing


A singular theme runs through the game of sight-fishing. It’s the visual see-stalk-cast and hang-on-to-your-rod sequence that anglers can’t get enough of; why fly fishers cherish above all else drifting dry flies for trout; why inshore anglers can’t sleep the night before an adventure on the shallow bonefish flats; why muskie hunters happily take a beating for twelve hours straight for the mere chance at one big fish . . .

Pure, adrenaline-laced, heart-pounding fun!

Believe it or not, the same motivation fuels the pursuit of crappies, walleyes or other species through a hole in a frozen lake — especially when one views the action via underwater camera lens. The rush of tension that occurs each time you watch a fish stalk your bait can turn excitement into addiction. Big bonuses result, too. Like learning new and fascinating fish behaviors, or discovering what your lure, line and retrieve really look like underwater, having witnessed the aquatic drama with your own two eyes.

“Panfish” Phil Laube is a Minnesota based angling adventurer who rarely ventures forth without his underwater camera. Laube’s especially enthusiastic about employing an Aqua-Vu to study his presentation and how fish react to it. If sight-fishing via camera lens happens to be super exciting, he doesn’t exactly mind that either.

“For a lot of anglers, fishing with a camera has become the main reason they don’t mind braving the winter elements,” Laube admits. “It’s like, if you remove the visual element of stalking big tarpon or redfish on the shallow flats, it’s still technically fishing, just not nearly as much fun.”

Intrepid ice angler “Panfish” Phil Laube says underwater spy-work skyrockets his fishing confidence.

Laube says that while he always totes his sonar unit for missions on ice, he also brings the camera, and deploys the optics whenever he can. “There are things you simply can’t experience or learn about what’s happening without seeing the real-world underwater landscape.”

In terms of essential and interesting discoveries, Laube offers the following aquatic observations:

(1) Confidence – “The camera has really improved my ability as a fisherman, especially in terms of coaxing fish to bite. It’s all about visualization and confidence. After seeing fish repeatedly respond favorably or negatively toward different lures and actions, you become much more certain of what’s happening below — even when you’re not using a camera. You can accurately picture what everything looks like, which allows me to predict fish response in some cases. Visualization yields confidence.”

(2) Interpreting Sonar – “There’s no better way to learn what your sonar unit is showing you than to put a camera down there at the same time. I promise you’ll discover you’ve been wrong about certain signals and about the way fish truly approach your lure. A lot of anglers think, for example, fish always ‘rise up’ to bite because of the way signals are shown on sonar, relative to the transducer. This isn’t often the case. Fish on sharp drop-offs is another one. If you’re set up on a sharp break — particularly with big rocks there to obstruct the transducer signal — your sonar may not show fish close to the bottom at all.

“The other big thing is species ID. Based on watching fish on the camera, you can learn what a crappie looks like on sonar versus a sunfish, or walleye versus pike. For example, sunfish often approach a lure slowly, deliberately, while crappies often chase and move more rapidly.”

High definition underwater cameras reveal amazing underwater details that immediately translate to more fish on the ice.

(1) Line Truths – “Fish reject spinning jigs and lures, every time. I use Frabill Straightline reels to reduce spin, but they don’t completely eliminate it. You need to keep the bait moving and vibrating with rapid, wrist-shaking movements, almost non-stop. I run 3- or 4-pound test for panfish most of the time. Fish generally aren’t line-shy. But it’s important to match line to lure weight. Too heavy of line makes lures spin more. In deep water, bites can be undetectable. So, you want a heavier lure hanging below a coil-free line. Coils reduce sensitivity. The new co-polymer and fluorocarbon ice lines are awesome — slick, straight, and largely memory-free. By the way, fluorocarbon isn’t as invisible as you think.

(2) Ace-in-the Hole Spots – “Time and again, the Aqua-Vu has shown me the great attracting power of tall, standing vegetation — or other vertical cover — for attracting crappies, sunfish and largemouth bass. Pike, too. Clumps or small clusters of beanstalk-like cabbage are particularly appealing. If you find these, you’ll find fish nearby the majority of the time. Same deal with sunken trees, brushpiles and cribs. The camera is often the only way to spot fish in the dense cover, plus reveal how they’re relating to it.”

(3) Lure Selection – “Used to be the first thing I did when a fish rejected my lure was to switch color. I’ve learned through the lens that the first adjustment is to downsize or up-size to the next smaller or larger version of the lure you’re using. Adjust your jigging cadence, too. Slow down. Color can be important, though it’s not usually nearly so critical as other factors.

“Finally, watch how fish are biting your lure. If you’re missing fish, could be they’re biting the jighead and missing the hook. Or, they’re simply nipping the tail of the plastic. Downsizing both jig and plastic can be the ticket. I’ve got one super-secret panfish jig that’s armed with hooks on both sides of the jighead. Stings every fish that bites.”

Laube laughs, though he’s actually serious when he says, “Remember, the camera never lies.”

Do’s and Dont’s for Ice Fishing

Top 10 Do’s and Dont’s for Ice Fishing
FRABILL’S PAT KALMERTON WROTE THE BOOK – AND KEEPS REWRITING IT – ON TIP-UPS
from The Fishing Wire

Plano, IL — Amidst the focus on jigging and mobility over recent years, some proven strategies have been lost in the icy shuffle. Like tip-up fishing, which has consistently produced fish and forced guys into head-to-head 50-yard dash sprints since day one. It’s forged (and compromised) friendships over the years, served as fun fish story fodder, and even sent a few unlucky lads to the E.R.

picture from The Fishing Wire


The Frabill Pro Thermal Insulated Round Tip-Up is the industry gold standard.

One guy who’s tops on tip-ups is Frabill pro Pat Kalmerton of Sheboygan, Wisconsin based Wolf Pack Adventures. The good-natured guide will be the first to tell you that tip-up fishing is a sure fire way to cover lots of water quickly and ice just about anything that swims.

But Kalmerton stresses that tip-up fishing — like any angling approach — requires attention to detail. Set-it-and-forget is not part of this badger’s program.

“I’ve had the opportunity to learn tip-up secrets from seasoned anglers throughout the Midwest that would take years to figure out by trial and error,” says Kalmerton.

Thus, Like Cliff’s Notes for some class you snoozed through in high school, here’s Kalmerton’s Top 10 Tip-Up Dos and Don’ts to ace this winter semester’s tip-up test.


1) Heavy metal supersizing

Kalmerton says there’s a time and place for big hooks, but when in doubt, go smaller. In the case of walleye warfare, he sizes down to a #16 treble, usually opting for the extra flash of a gold Eagle Claw.

“I load the spool with 30-pound Frabill tip-up line and tie 8- to 10-feet of 8-pound fluorocarbon to a 25-pound InvisaSwivel. Make sure to tie the fluoro side first so you don’t have to run the whole tip-up through the Palomar loop! I slide one Owner glow bead up the fluoro and terminate the #16 gold treble with another Palomar. Then slide the bead down over the knot. I attach a split shot just heavy enough to keep the bait in a small strike window six to 10 inches above the hook and call it a day,” says Kalmerton.

For pike, he swaps out the 8-pound fluoro for 12-pound and sizes up to a #12 treble. “More often than not, 12-pound fluoro will handle any scissors beaks,” says Kalmerton.

When fishing 10-inch-plus suckers in trophy pike fisheries Kalmerton rigs 50-pound fluoro, five beads, a #6 Northland Real-Baitfish Image Colorado blade and clevis and a single 1/O hook tied with a snell knot.

“The thing I like about the snell knot is it pivots the hook when I really reef the hookset. I learned this from bass fishermen who fish punch baits — definitely ups hookset percentages.”

2) Not doing your homework

Kalmerton recommends studying LakeMaster GPS maps and PC software like Contour Elite ahead of time to surgically locate high-probability “spot-on-the-spot” locations.

“Take the time to study the body of water you’re going to fish and set out a gameplan,” says Kalmerton.

3) Setting up too close or too far from fish-holding structure

“One of the biggest reasons people get turned off to tip-ups is they spend all day in no-man’s land,” says Kalmerton. “Or setting tip-ups right on top of weeds, which can result in a tangled mess that fish will pass up 9 times out 10.”

He searches out ambush locations like green weeds, breaks, river currents, bottom transitions, and other structure where baitfish hide, instead of directly on top or too far away.

4) Fishing dead weeds

If you pull up your auger and the water’s full of plant matter that stinks, those are dying weeds. Baitfish and predators are drawn to vegetation that’s still producing oxygen, especially as winter progresses.

“Gotta get to the buffet with the freshest salad and best baitfish,” laughs Kalmerton.

5) Setting tip-ups too close together

Where you’re allowed more than one tip-up by law, fish different locations along any given structure, spreading them out as far as your state regs allow. Imagine the ice as a grid, and position your tip-ups out from your base location along a break at different depths.


6) Fishing too small of window in the water column

“A lot of anglers put a depth bomb on, come up six to eight inches for walleyes and two feet for pike,” says Kalmerton.

He suggests using your electronics to find the thermocline and baitfish to pinpoint where in the water column fish are feeding. For example, in late winter you may find that fish are up high, close to the ice, looking for water with more oxygen.

7) Mouse hunting with an elephant gun — and vice versa

Kalmerton chooses the right tip-up for your given species — or something versatile.

“The Frabill Dawg Bone can be used for both predators and panfish. For scouting panfish, simply adjust the shaft higher on the tip-up arm to release flag spring compression, which then results in sensitivity to very light bites. When hunting larger predators, just make sure you push that shaft back down.“

8) Tip-up neglect

“Walk around and make sure your tip-ups aren’t frozen in, there’s bait on your line, and it’s free of weeds,” says Kalmerton.

He adds that if you’re setting tip-ups for the evening “power hour,” think about using a Frabill Thermal to keep your holes ice-free.

9) Poor visibility

Kalmerton orients his tip-ups in the same direction, so at a mere glance he can see when one flag in a series trips. Like his fellow ice fishing authority, Steve Pennaz, Kalmerton loves the pre-lubed Frabill Artic Fire Rail tip-up for many situations. That said, when faced with deep snow on the hardwater, he’ll choose a Frabill wooden classic tip-up with a long spool arm to reach the hole and ride the flag above the snow. And for fishing in low visibility situations, he’ll affix a Frabill tip-up light to the flag shaft for easy detection.

10) Weak hooksets

Knowing when to set the hook on a fish — especially when you’re not sure when the tip-up flag tripped — can be difficult.

“Here’s the beauty of downsizing hooks. Most of the time the fish doesn’t spit the bait because it doesn’t feel the metal. As soon as I know the fish is running away from me and I feel weight, I reef on ‘em hard. Chances are you’re going to get a good gullet or corner-of-the-mouth hookset because that fish is committed to your bait!”

What Is Ice Off Fishing this Spring?

Tips for Ice Off Fishing this Spring
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
from The Fishing Wire

It lasts just a short time. But “ice off” can be a great time to catch lots of fish.

“Ice off” also gives you a chance to get outside and test the new fishing equipment you acquired over the winter.

What is ice off?

Ice off is a term anglers use to describe that time each spring when ice starts to melt off lakes around the nation. As the ice melts, the sun hits the shallow water near the shore. If conditions are right — if the sun shines for several days, and the wind stays calm — the water near the shore can warm up fast.

The warming water draws fish from deeper water, where they’ve spent the winter, into shallow water to feed. And these fish are hungry; it’s been awhile since they’ve had a decent meal.

Randy Oplinger, coldwater sport fisheries coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says, at many waters, spring is the best time to fish.

“Just as the ice starts to come off the water is one of my favorite times of the year to fish,” he says. “Fishing can be great from both the shore and from a float tube. Ice off is also a great time to take your kids fishing. They can catch a bunch of fish.”

If the sky stays clear and the wind stays calm, fishing from shore can be fast and furious for one to two weeks. Then, as water in other parts of the lake or reservoir warm, fish start to move away from the shore and travel to deeper water.

Your ice-off fishing experience can last a lot longer than one to two weeks, though. If you stay updated on which waters are losing ice, and you’re willing to travel a bit, you can extend your ice-off fishing experience into April.

To stay updated on which waters are experiencing ice off, visit wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots. DWR personnel across Utah update fishing reports on this site every week.

Another great resource is bigfishtackle.com and utahwildlife.net. Anglers visit these fishing forums daily to share information about their latest fishing trips.

Stores that sell fishing tackle, and stores located at various marinas in Utah, also have excellent, up-to-date information.

Shore fishing

Ice off can be a great time to catch lots of fish from shore. And you might not have to travel far, to get in on the action: many of Utah’s best ice-off fishing waters are close to some of the state’s biggest cities. “Many of these waters have good shoreline access,” Oplinger says. “And many of them have restrooms and fishing piers too.”

Oplinger says three waters — East Canyon Reservoir, Rockport Reservoir and Steinaker Reservoir — should be especially good to fish at ice off this year. “Ice-off fishing, at any of these reservoirs, would be a great day trip for a family,” he says.

There are a number of tactics you can use, to catch fish from shore during ice off:

Tactic 1 — Fish the edge of the ice

Oplinger says the open water near the edge of the ice is a great spot to cast your bait or to start retrieving your lure. If the ice isn’t too far away, getting your bait or lure to the edge of the ice is easy; simply cast it onto the ice, and then retrieve it towards you until it falls into the water at the edge of the ice.

Tactic 2 — Use PowerBait or nightcrawlers

If you’re fishing for rainbow trout, PowerBait and nightcrawlers are excellent baits to use at ice off. Oplinger recommends placing a large sinker on your line, a foot or two above your hook, and then casting your bait and letting it sink to the bottom of the water you’re fishing.

Another strategy is to float your bait one or two feet off the bottom. PowerBait comes in a floating variety that will float at whatever distance you place the hook from the sinker.

Nightcrawlers or PowerBait will also work for cutthroat trout, tiger trout, lake trout and splake (a cross between a lake trout and a brook trout). However, chub meat is the most effective bait to use for these fish.

Tactic 3 — Use lures

Using lures can also be an effective way to catch trout at ice off. Dark-colored plastic tubes and grubs, fished on a leadhead jig, can often provide excellent results. Spinners and spoons are also very effective at ice off.

You can fish these lures simply by casting them out and retrieving them back. Or, you can try the following technique:

Fill a clear plastic bobber about half full of water. The water will make the bobber heavier, but it will still float.

Slide the bobber about two to three feet up your line, and then tie a swivel on the end of the line. The swivel will prevent the bobber from sliding down your line and onto your lure.
Before you place your bobber and swivel on your line, cut a three-foot piece of fishing line. After placing your bobber and swivel, tie one end of the line to the swivel and the other end to your lure. Then, cast your lure.

After the lure hits the water, it will sink below the bobber. Slowly retrieve the lure back to you. Watch the bobber; as soon as a fish takes your lure, the bobber will start to move. Or, it might go under the water. When it does, pull your rod tip up, and set the hook!

Float tube fishing

Many people also catch fish at ice off while fishing from a float tube.

“Float tubes can be a great way to fish areas that you can’t reach from shore,” Oplinger says. “You can use them to get around the lake and find two things, all in the same place: a place where fish are biting and that you can fish all on your own. Plus, they’re a lot of fun to fish out of.”

Many waters are good waters to fish from a float tube at ice off, but four—Lost Creek Reservoir, Strawberry Reservoir, Cleveland Reservoir and Panguitch Lake—should be especially good waters to fish from a float tube this year.

“When fishing at ice off,” Oplinger says, “most float tube anglers use flies. But baits and lures can be effective from float tubes too. If you use flies, dark-colored wooly buggers, or flies that resemble a leech, are some great choices.”

Tips for success

Regardless of whether you’re fishing from the shore or from a float tube, Oplinger has tips to help you catch fish at ice off:

Tip 1 — Be patient

During ice off, trout often bunch together and cruise the shoreline in groups called schools. For that reason, it’s important to be patient.

“You have to be patient and wait for the schools to swim through,” Oplinger says. “You can sit there for awhile, with no bites, and then—all of the sudden—you’ll get bite after bite after bite. Then, after the fish swim through, it gets quiet again.”

Tip 2 — Check your equipment

Before you fish at ice off, it’s important to check your equipment.

“Over the winter,” Oplinger says, “fishing line, tippets and jigs often become brittle and lose their effectiveness. Before your first fishing trip this spring, make sure you check your equipment and replace worn line and old lures.”

Tip 3 — Watch anglers near you

“Pay attention to the anglers around you,” Oplinger says. “If you learn they’re catching fish with a certain lure or bait, and you have that same lure or bait in your tackle box, get it on your line.”

Wrapping Up the Ice Fishing

Wrapping Up the Ice Fishing Season
By Bob Jensen

For many of us, the ice-fishing season is over, but open water fishing is still a little ways off. Some will make a trip to a river to get in on some open water angling, and others will travel north to find ice that is still safe, but for many, now is a down time for actually wetting a line. That makes it a great time to take care of some things that need to be done to make our fishing even better next year. Following are some of those things.

Let’s start with some tasks that should be done now to wrap up the ice-fishing season. If you have a portable shelter, open it up and let it dry out good on the inside. Clean everything out of it that might attract mice or any other pest. Make sure it’s completely dry, then close it up and put it in storage. I prefer to store my shelters off the ground. Just put a couple of boards underneath it to allow for air flow. I’m not sure this is necessary, but I still like to do it.

Now, here’s a big one: Storing your auger. Different augers use different types of fuel today. Check with the manufacturer on how best to store your auger and then do it that way. Many ice-anglers like to start their auger every month or so and just let it run for a minute.

Also, if you noticed that it was getting harder to make a hole in the ice, have the blades sharpened or install a new set of blades.

Make sure the battery on your sonar unit is charged.

Take some line off your reel and remember to add fresh line when ice-season approaches again. Back the drag off also.

Open up your tacklebox and let it air out. Make a note of what lures need to be replaced.

Last thing: Clean out the pockets of the clothing that you wear on the ice. Make sure there are no candy bar wrappers or containers of waxworms, spikes, etc. Bad things happen when these are left in your coat.

Now to prepare for open water. If you haven’t been ice-fishing, remember to get a new fishing license.

If you didn’t do it when you put your rod and reels away for the winter, strip some line off and add new. More and more, anglers are realizing the importance of fresh line. On my jigging and rigging rods, I take about fifty yards off and tie new line to the old line. I generally never have more line than that out when jigging or rigging. I started using P-Line last year because it’s outstanding line that I can count on, but it’s also very affordable. With trolling reels, you’ll want to add more fresh line because you’ll often have more line out when trolling.

If you have a boat, make sure the batteries are charged and ready to go.

If you have waders that need some attention, get that done now. Leaky waders in the cold water of spring are no fun.

Check your tacklebox and make sure you have the lures you’ll need for the upcoming open water season.

These things are small details that often get forgotten, but if you remember them now, you’ll be more prepared to hit the open water soon and the ice when it returns.

To see all the newest episodes of the Fishing the Midwest television series, new fishing related tips, and fishing articles from the past, go to www.fishingthemidwest.com

What Is First Ice Safety?

First Ice Safety
By Mike Gnatkowski
www.gnatoutdoors.com
from The Fishing Wire

When someone tells you “you’re walking on thin ice” it’s meant as words of extreme caution or warning. Ice fishermen need to take it literally. First ice produces some of the hottest ice fishing of the year and ice anglers are anxious to get on the ice to start the new season, but first ice also demands an extra level of vigilance and concern.

“First ice is a time that demands both stealth and safety,” shared ice fishing authority Brian Brosdahl. “If you’ve ever went through the ice it’s a ordeal that you won’t soon forget and don’t want to repeat. With that in mind, make sure you have a spud bar or ice chisel.” A lot of guys may not even have one these days, but it’s a must-have tool on first ice.

Call your favorite tackle shop or a local guide before venturing out and check on ice conditions. If you don’t see others fishing or signs that other anglers have been on the ice, use extreme caution. I don’t know of anyone that hands out awards for being the first one on the ice, but you might end up on the evening news.

“A spud bar is my friend!” joked Brosdahl. “A spud or ice chisel is going to allow you to check ice conditions as you go.” Standard ice chisels, like Frabill’s (www.frabill.com/standard-ice-chisel-592.html) 52-inch, 5.5-pound model, are an inexpensive price to pay for peace of mind when testing ice conditions. Use the spud systematically to check ice thickness every 10 to 20 yards or so while you gradually work your way out to where you’re going to fish. “Be careful to not out walk your spud,” advised Brosdahl. If you’re in a group, don’t walk all together in a straight line. Spread out so if you do fall through you don’t all go down together. That way, the others can help you get out. Don’t stand in a group until you’re sure the ice is safe. Use a long rope to pull your shanty behind if you’re using one so as not to add weight in one location and to keep from spooking fish.

A life jacket is a good idea. It might seem like the inflatable variety of life jacket would be ideal for the situation, but a conventional life jacket may be better. “Some inflatable life jackets have a cord you have to pull to blow them up,” said Brosdahl. “The shock of going through the ice may leave you disoriented or confused or if you get knocked unconscious you won’t be able to pull the cord. There is a pill that dissolves in the auto inflation models. If the pill doesn’t dissolve you’re toast and a regular, conventional life jacket works all the time.” Once you’re on the ice and are sure conditions are safe you can take it off.

Even better is a floatation suit like Frabill’s new I Float Jacket and Bibs (www.frabill.com/apparel/ice-fishing-apparel/i-float-jacket.html.) Several manufacturers make foam-filled suits that are the ultimate life-saving devices. Not only do the suits float, but they also maintain your body temperature preventing hypothermia until help arrives or you can get yourself out. Flotation suits sport bright colors that can aid rescuers in finding you; they also have glow-in-the-dark patches or piping so you can be located after dark.

You can’t always tell ice quality by just looking at it. Clear, blue ice is obviously the strongest, but just because there has been a week of sub-freezing temperatures don’t assume the ice is safe. Mark some increments on your ice scoop and measure the ice thickness so you know exactly how much ice there is. Milky-colored ice or slush is never safe.

Remember that ice thickness can vary greatly from lake to lake. Smaller lakes and ponds will have safe ice first. If there’s snow on the ice, assume that it’s unsafe until you can check its thickness. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can warm up and melt existing ice. Keep in mind that ice thickness is not likely to be uniform. Current, springs, waterfowl, and debris on the ice can cause ice thickness to vary greatly from one location to another and in a very short distance.

There’s one safety item that you should put on before you even step on the ice-creepers or ice cleats. Slick, glare first ice is an accident waiting to happen. Creepers provide traction and keep you upright. A nasty spill on the ice can result in a broken arm or elbow, torn ligaments or a concussion. Frabill’s rubber ice creepers (www.frabill.com/ice-fishing/accessories/ice-creepers-for-boot-traction.html) pull easily over most winter boots. 10 carbide spikes (per creeper) contact and grip the ice to keep you upright and injury free.

Some other first-ice essentials should include a set of ice awls or picks, a length of rope and a cell phone in a sealed container or zip-loc bag. Several of the Frabill (www.frabill.com) suits that ice fishermen prefer come complete with ice awls that are at the ready. Should you go through, a set of ice picks can assist you in getting out quickly. Wear them around your neck where you can grab them. If you go through, try to remain calm. Don’t remove your jacket or outer clothing. Clothing can trap air to keep you afloat and keep you warm. Dig the ice awls into the ice, kick your feet and try to roll out onto the ice. Keep rolling until you’re on safe ice. Rolling will help distribute your weight until you’re on safe ice and can stand up or crawl. Try and head back in the direction you came from. That’s where the safest ice is like to be.

A cell phone can be used to call for help and notify authorities that you need help or that you made it out of the water and are safe. If you have a length of rope it can be used by others to pull you out while maintaining a safe distance.

The best policy is to realize that no ice is safe ice. Authorities generally consider 4 inches of ice to be a minimum for safe travel by individual anglers, 6 inches to be safe for group activities and 8 inches for travel via snowmobile or four-wheeler. Traveling on the ice is never recommended by car or truck, but a minimum of a foot of clear, hard ice is required for going on the ice in YOUR vehicle, but not mine!