To an outdoorsman, being cooped up all winter is about as annoying as someone scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard. You just can't handle it very long. Before long you're dreaming about tropical places where warm breezes sway the coconut trees, or, you just vegetate in front of the TV with a glassy expression while your casting arm twitches with the DT's. This is not a pretty sight. What you need to do is to gird up your loins with much insulation and find a good place to go ice fishing.
Ice fishing is really not as difficult or cold as you might think. The prepared ice fisherman can keep warm and have a great time. All you need are some bulky clothes (in the latest fashion, of course), some light line, a few small jigs and some bait.
A friend and I often combine our favorite winter sports by crosscountry skiing to an ice fishing spot. The skiing makes it fun even if the fishing is slow, but you can usually find some great action through the ice.
If your last impressions of ice fishing are rather foggy because your brain got frozen (along with other semi-vital parts) then you need some education on how to dress. With proper gear and enough insulation you can keep warm even if the temperature drops well below zero.
The most common mistake for dressing for winter activities is to give your head and torso inadequate insulation. Even if others don't, your body considers your brain and heart the two most important pieces of equipment you own. If they are not insulated well enough, your body automatically shuts down some of the blood flow to your arms and legs. That's why your fingers and toes get cold — not necessarily because your fingers and toes are not insulated enough. So more insulation on your head, neck and torso area will go a long way to keeping the rest of you warm!
The layering method is the most efficient way of dressing. Start with an absorbent layer of thermal underware. Good materials include Thermax, polypropylene or silk. Avoid using cotton. It becomes worse than nothing if it gets wet, pulling heat away from your body quicker than a goose after a June bug. This inner, wicking layer is there to transfer moisture from your body to outer layers of clothing and then into the air. In cold environments, wet is cold and dry is warm. This is important to understand when selecting clothing.
The next layer is the main insulating layer. Goose or duck down insulates well but if it gets wet it doesn't insulate at all so it is not a very good choice if there is a chance of rain or snow.
Synthetics such as polar fleece, quallofil or even one inch foam make good insulation material because they transfer moisture to the outer layer and still insulate when damp. Wool is the only natural fiber that insulates well even when it is wet.
This main layer can be made up of more than one garment such as a wool sweater, an insulated ski bib overall and a qualofill parka. This gives you at least an inch of insulation over your torso.
The outermost layer of this system must be a water and wind resistant shell. Wind chill can often go right through even a good insulating material. However, a wind-proof shell not only blocks the wind but creates another dead air space that increases the insulating ability of your system 10 to 15 degrees. It also blocks outside moisture such as snow, sleet or rain from dampening your inner layers of clothing.
The only possible drawback to this outer shell is that nonbreathable fabrics like PVC coated raincoats can collect condensation making your clothing damp. Open or remove the outer shell when walking or doing anything strenuous to avoid condensation buildup.
This layering system can keep your torso warm in most any kind of weather condition. If the day turns out to be nice and you get too warm, you can always shed a layer or two.
The hat is an important piece of gear that is seldom adequate. A good rule of thumb is that if the hat is fashionable, then it doesn't insulate well enough. The warmest hats are bulky and loaded with insulation. Knit hats are good only in mild winter weather. Polar fleece lined Gore-Tex hats do a great job of insulating the brainbox and ears. In brutal conditions, you may need a skiers neoprene face mask and goggles.
Sun glasses are recommended, when the sun is bright, to protect your eyes from snow blindness and if any part of your skin is exposed, cover it with sun screen.
A parka hood helps lots by keeping the wind and snow from blowing down your neck. A scarf also keeps heat from escaping through the top of your jacket. 80 percent of your valuable body heat can escape through your head and neck area if they aren't adequately covered and sealed from the outside air.
Cold hands are a reality when ice fishing but the pain can be greatly lessened when you insulate your head and torso. For additional hand protection, mittens are the most efficient because they keep your fingers close together. Gloves don't have the insulating qualities of mittens but are adequate when you are active and moving about. However, they are inadequate when sitting or standing for a long time. Even with mittens on, you can still set the hook on fish and reel the line in. Take the mittens off for rigging tackle and getting hooks out of the fish.
Nothing beats a good hand warmer after you've re-rigged and have chilly fingers. Liquid fuel hand warmers are the best, usually lasting all day on one filling. Solid fuel stick hand warmers may last only 4 to 8 hours. Chemical handwarmers are good for emergencies but you should take a good supply of them for a full day of fishing.
When ice fishing your feet are in constant contact with the ice and snow and have a tendency to get cold before anything else and they also get wet very easily. To keep your feet warm, wear shoes that are big enough for your feet and the extra insulation (socks) you'll be using. Shoes that are too small can squeeze the blood out of your feet, making them cold. Insulated rubber boats or mukluk-style boots are the best because they are roomy, water resistant and insulate well. Make sure that your shoes are water proof!
Sweaty feet can make your feet cold too. A good trick I learned that can add 10 to 15 degrees of warmth to your boots without the possibility of making your socks damp from sweat is to put your feet in bread bags before you put your socks on. This is called a vapor barrier and is a great help in keeping those toes warm.
Contrary to popular opinion, your feet will not get sweaty inside the bags because the vapor barrier is right against your skin. Over the bread bag put 2 or 3 pairs of socks for an insulating layer. Make sure they are not cotton. Wool and synthetic blends are best.
I think you are getting the idea by now. Dress in a versitile system that insulates you well and keeps you dry.
Anglers that are used to fishing in a horizontal direction may be confused about how to fish straight down. It is much like vertical jigging from a boat. An area is located where you think fish will be concentrated. If you are not sure where to start fishing, look around and see where other people are fishing and try to locate a similar depth of water and structure. Often several holes must be drilled before you find the right depth and area to catch feeding fish consistently.
Your ice auger should be at least 7 inches in diameter. An 8 inch auger is the most popular. 10 inch hand augers can be hard to drill when the ice is hard. Folks that invest in a motorized ice auger seldom go back to the hand method because the gas drills are so easy to use. With the motorized units several holes can be drilled in just a few minutes and then it is easy to test each one to see which depth or area holds the most fish.
Hand augers must be sharp and the blades can't be bent. Dull blades won't cut well and must be sharpened professionally to keep the ideal angle on the cutting edge. Bent blades are hopeless, no matter how sharp they are. Don't use your auger like a hammer. If you have to pound your way into the ice, something is wrong with your auger.
Ice scoops keep the slush out of the holes and are considered a necessity for keeping the hole open.
Ice axes or "spuds" can chop a hole in the ice but take a long time and leave rough edges on the hole that can fray light fishing line. If the ice is more than about 10 or 12 inches thick, cutting through with an ax or pick can become extremely difficult and time consuming.
Ice rods are typically 18 inches to 36 inches long. Longer rods are more cumbersome and are hard to control when fishing over a small hole. You can buy an ice rod for only a few dollars at most any of the sporting goods stores or you can make a rod from a tip section of a light to medium action spin rod. Simply shorten your wife's (or mom's) wooden mop a foot and drill a hole slightly bigger than the butt end of the rod — which will be inserted into the hole. Drill the hole deep enough to secure the rod. Melt some glue down into the hole and around the rod to firmly secure it in place.
Next, tape a reel on to the wooden handle and your ice rod is ready to go.
Use 4 to 6 pound test line. Heavier line remains too kinked up in cold weather, reducing your ability to feel hits. The exception would be when you're fishing for large lake trout which require heavy lures and stout lines.
Most ice fishing can be done with a handful of lures. Every ice fisherman should have a selection of small (1/32 to 1/8 ounce) spoons, small jigs, ice flies, small clip-on bobbers and some bait hooks. A common rig is a spoon or jig that is used to attract fish below which (about 6 to 12 inches) is a baited ice fly. This rig is dropped to the bottom of the lake and then raised just a couple of inches off the bottom.
Jig it up and down occasionally to attract the fish but don't jig it constantly. If the fish don't seem to be on the bottom, try suspending the rig half way down or a few feet under the ice. Productive areas to fish are usually 15 to 65 feet deep.
Common baits vary according to species fished for and personal preferences but wax worms and meal worms work nearly everywhere and for most species of fish. Trout, bass, perch and bluegill will readily eat them. Larger fish prefer meat such as frozen minnows or sucker meat attached to the hook of a spoon or other jig. Larger spoons and jigs (1/2 to 1 ounce) are used for the bigger fish.
Bottled baits like Berkley's Power Bait, Trout Bait, Power Grubs or Worms or salmon eggs also work well on occasion.
Keep your bait warm in an inside pocket. Old timers keep their wax worms in their lower lip, swearing that warm, happy bait catches more fish. Frankly, I'm not that dedicated.
Many ice fishermen design an ice sled that suits them. You can haul much more gear on a sled than you can carry but you seldom need more than a 5 gallon bucket for your gear and for the fish you might keep. Turn the bucket upside down and it becomes a chair or make a padded seat that fits like a lid. A rod holder is handy for detecting light hits. On windy days or very cold conditions, some hardy ice fishermen us a freestanding tent or other wind block to keep warm. These are available commercially if you prefer buying one over building your own. Check with your local sporting good store to see what is available in your area.
Using these techniques for dressing and fishing, you can have an enjoyable trip and keep from going stir-crazy. I've known dedicated, purist fly fishermen to become ice fishing nuts after just one trip and I think if you're prepared you will love it too. It's hard to beat a perch fry after a day spent out on the ice.
Hard ice is quite safe but you need to be careful in some situations. New ice is usually hard enough that 3 to 4 inches will easily support several people. Anything thicker is very safe. If you are unsure how thick the ice is, drill a hole in shallow water and measure the depth with the handle of your ice scoop before venturing out further. Make sure you don't drill into a rocky bottom and dull your auger blades.
Watch for pressure cracks, where the ice may have buckled or separated. There may be thin spots in these areas. Hard ice will pony and pop causing some nerve wracking sounds but those sounds mean that the ice is strong and safe.
Do not walk in areas where streams or springs come into a lake or pond, the ice may be thin due to the currents or warmer water temperatures.
In early spring, rotten ice can be a problem. The ice may appear thick but it begins to melt internally and can have soft spots, holes and honey- combed areas where it may not hold a person's weight. It is best to avoid spring ice.
Walking on slick ice can be dangerous. Be extremely careful. It is a good idea to wear ice walking aids. These metal spikes attach to your boots and prevent slipping. Cross country skis can help you to move around lakes that have a layer of snow on them. They also help spread out your weight on thin or rotten ice.
Always carry a length of rope in case someone goes through the ice. Don't get too near or you may fall through too. Throw the rope to them and ease them out and back onto safe ice. Self rescue can be accomplished by keeping some spikes set in a handle of some sort in an easily accessible location. With the spikes, you can pull yourself free.
Going through the ice is very rare if these simple precautions are taken but it is better to be prepared for all emergencies. Always keep a complete set of dry clothes with you or in the car in case you accidently get wet.
If things just get too cold, make sure you recognize when to leave. Hypothermia ( a lowereing of body core temperature) is a leading cause of backcountry fatalities. If you see someone that has slurred speech and is not thinking straight, get them somewhere warm quick.
Here is a list of great places to ice fish.
Trout — Strawberry Reservoir, East Canyon Reservoir, Porcupine Reservoir, Deer Creek Reservoir, Lost Creek Reservoir, Currant Creek Reservoir, Otter Creek Reservoir, Causey Creek Reservoir, Fish Lake Koosharem Reservoir, etc.
Lake Trout — Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Fish Lake, Bear Lake, Starvation Reservoir.
Perch — Deer Creek Reservoir, Pineview Reservoir, Newton Reservoir, Yuba Reservoir, Fish Lake, etc.
Bluegill —Red Fleet Reservoir, Newton Reservoir, Pineview Reservoir, Huntington North Reservoir, etc.
White Bass — Utah Lake.
Walleye — Willard Bay, Deer Creek Reservoir, Starvation Reservoir, Yuba Reservoir, Utah Lake, etc.
Kokanee — Porcupine Reservoir, Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Crappie — Pineview Reservoir, Willard Bay.