Ice fishing is a bit of a fascination. I get fishing questions from readers, friends and acquaintances throughout the year, but it seems like the inquiries pick up every winter when lakes start to freeze.
When is it safe to go on the ice? What are the rules? What kinds of fish can you catch? How much special gear to you need? The list goes on.
So I’d like to dedicate this column to some ice fishing basics, with a few extra tips thrown in for more experienced anglers.
Safety first! Ice fishing is not without its dangers. I recommend always fishing with a group. At a minimum, there should at least be other anglers around who could help if you got into trouble. As a general rule, 4 inches of ice is safe for a small group of anglers on foot. At 8-10 inches, it becomes safe for snowmobiles and other small ATVs. No matter how thick the ice gets, I NEVER recommend driving cars or trucks on it. The consequences of losing a vehicle through the ice just aren’t worth the risk. In addition to ice safety, be sure to dress in warm layers and wear ice cleats to avoid slips and falls. In extreme cold, a shelter and/or buddy heater make great companions.
Gear up! I get tons of questions about ice fishing gear. From automatic jigging rods to underwater fish finding electronics, there are lots of cool gadgets to choose from. But for starters, all you really need is an auger, an ice scoop, some poles and a handful of small jigs. Mini ice fishing rods are relatively inexpensive, and since most Idaho waters allow five poles per angler, it’s a good idea to start a collection. I always keep my poles in rod holders so they don’t get pulled through the ice. There’s nothing wrong with using regular-sized rods, either—whatever it takes to maximize your chances!
Stay active! I see some anglers go out, set up a bunch of rods and let them sit for hours on end. That might work sometimes, but ice fishing is much more effective if you work at it. Every angler should constantly jig at least one rod, rotating through to give each lure some life. Check and change your baits (worms, corn, marshmallows, Power Bait, mealworms and cut bait) often. And if the fish aren’t biting, keep moving and drilling new holes. Once you catch a fish, stay put until they stop biting. Ice fishing action often comes in spurts!
Stick with it! Even for experienced anglers, ice fishing can be a challenge. The key is to keep at it. Once you learn the nuances and find some success, you’ll be hooked! Here’s a trade secret for popular Idaho waters like Cascade, Magic and C.J. Strike: perch-colored jigs tipped with a small piece of perch meat are great lures to start with. Both perch and trout have a hard time resisting a tasty-looking baby perch!
The only way to truly learn how to ice fish is to get out and do it. If you want to learn more, check out my Ice Fishing 101 community learning class next fall.
Stay safe, stay warm, and tight lines!