How to Get Hooked on Ice Fishing
I spent a delightful half hour recently being interviewed by Rob Keck, the host of Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World Podcast. Rob hails from sunny South Carolina, where it was a balmy 72 °F when we recorded the show. I won't tell you what the temperature was here in Kenora that day; let's just say it was slightly colder.
Despite the difference in degrees, however, Rob was intrigued by ice fishing. He is a well-travelled and highly skilled angler and hunter but has never ventured onto the ice to catch fish, so he was full of questions. Just between you and me, I think his introduction to the sport was watching the movie, Grumpy Old Men, so he wondered: don't you get cold when you go ice fishing? Do the fish still bite in frigid water? How do you gear up properly if you have never done it before? And most important of all: is ice fishing really fun?
Well, let's answer that last question first, because ice fishing is super enjoyable, which is why it’s arguably the fastest-growing segment of the sport these days. I have several friends, in fact, who enjoy it more than open water angling, and eagerly start counting down the days in early autumn. Pick your times properly, outfit yourself with the right clothing, learn a few simple tricks and techniques, and you will be ice fishing like a pro before you know it.
But as Rob wondered, how do you get started? Well, the best way to learn how to ice fish is by hooking up with a knowledgeable family member or friend. Ice fishing is noted for being much more of a social activity than fishing in the open water season when many anglers jealously guard their favourite fishing spots and secret techniques. Fortunately, that is not the case in the wintertime, when you will often see large groups of anglers sharing hole-drilling chores, baiting lines, landing fish, and tending to the cozy campfire along the shore.
Hiring a guide who specializes in ice fishing is an even better way to become proficient quickly. Buddy Dave Chong, for example, is the yellow perch ice fishing guru of Lake Simcoe, perhaps the finest winter perch fishery in the world. Spend one day on the ice with "Chonger" and you will not only come home with the finest, freshest, most delicious fish you have ever eaten, but you will also know precisely what types of structure and cover yellow perch prefer, the depths they like to roam and the best rods, reels, lines and lures you should use to catch them. Armed with this information, you will be able to strike out on your own with confidence, or better yet, with like-minded friends and enjoy immediate success.
And talking about first-time solo ice fishing flights, I always recommend picking an easily accessed lake like Simcoe, Couchiching, Gull, Nipissing, Temagami, Thunder Bay, Lac de Mille Lacs, or Lake of the Woods, to name but a few of the more popular Ontario ice fishing bodies of water.
On some of these lakes, like my home waters of Lake of the Woods, you can literally drive your vehicle for hundreds of miles on well-maintained, plowed ice roads—often eight to 10 lanes wide—to some of the very best ice fishing spots.
It is also a great idea to invest in an inexpensive portable ice fishing shelter and a small propane heater. These things have literally revolutionized ice fishing because they are so compact and lightweight that you can store them in the bed of your truck or lay them in the trunk or backseat of your car. And depending on the size and style—they come in one-two and multi-person flip-over, pop-up, and hub styles—you can set one up on the ice in a matter of minutes. You can even buy insulated models that will get so warm inside, once you turn on the heater, that you will take off your coat and ice fish in a hoodie or light sweater on even the coldest day of winter.
Another must-have marvel of modern technology is the new lithium ion-powered electric ice augers. Because there is no gas and oil to mess with, they are ultra-light in weight and you can lay them in the trunk or across the back seat of your car without any odour or safety issues. And if you live in an apartment, condo, or high-rise, you can even carry them up in the elevator and store them in the closet. How cool is that?
By the time I reached this stage in the podcast with Rob, I could tell he was itching to learn more about ice fishing and wanted to know what types of rods, reels and lures he needed to catch the various fish. So, let's focus on that topic in the next blog.
Read Gord's follow-up on ice fishing gear for various species here.