Ice fishing, beyond the basics

by Kent Sorenson, Assistant Habitat Manager, DWR Northern Region

It's time to gear up for ice-fishing season. If you're serious about ice fishing and want to catch more fish, this post is for you.

We'll go beyond the basics with some tips and direction for those who demand more of themselves when it comes to hauling fish through a hole in the ice. And maybe give you a few ideas for your Christmas list. Let's get started.

Tip #1 — Choose reliable ice-fishing gear

My first tip is to buy good, reliable gear. You'll find that you usually get what you pay for. Investing a modest amount on quality tackle will make your days more productive and ensure that you don't waste your trip wrangling problematic equipment.

Ice-fishing gear doesn't have to be complicated, but finding what works best for you may require a few trips and a willingness to experiment.

I also recommend tailoring your gear to the size and behaviors of the fish you want to catch. For example, if you want to catch lake trout, you'll need a rod, reel and line that are heavier than what you'd use for bluegill.

Rods and reels should also be matched to their assigned task. Even though you generally match your gear to a species, you actually match it more to the bait you intend to use rather than the species you plan to catch. For example, you can land a 10-pound fish on a noodle rod, but you can't effectively work a 3/8-ounce lure with it.

For most panfish (e.g., bluegill and yellow perch), you'll rarely need to go heavier than 4-pound line. Possibly more important than the line weight, though, is its diameter and behavior in cold weather.

As you learn about the characteristics of various types of fishing line, you'll find they all have strengths and weaknesses.

We all have slight preferences that can be determined only through experience. I like monofilament line, other anglers like braids and some strictly use fluorocarbon. Rarely is one type of line best for all conditions.

Strive to find a line that is small in diameter and has low spool memory. This will have to be a try-it-and-see moment for most people.

Tip #2 — Make use of electronics

If possible, make use of electronics, particularly sonar. Nothing will build your confidence more than knowing there are fish below you. And nothing will make you a more successful angler than having that confidence.

There are many different sonar (fish finder) options available to ice anglers nowadays. I use a Vexilar, but other manufacturers make great sonar units too.

Some are better than others, but any of them are better than not using one at all. Find one that suits your fishing style and fits within your budget, and you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.