Get Ready For Ice Fishing!
Please make sure you check operators' websites and local travel info before planning your trip as restrictions change regularly.
The open water season has come to an end in Northeastern Ontario for many, including myself. I left it to the last possible weekend before the busy holiday season, but I can now say that some of my stress is gone! The boat is winterized and tucked away until the first sign of open water. Many people ask what I will do all winter now that the lakes are beginning to freeze over. Without skipping a beat I say, "Ice fishing."
For many, ice fishing is a great way to pass the time over the winter months and often a favourite way to fish. Many people even consider winter as their favorite time to fish, period. It could be the comfort of an ice shack, the camaraderie felt while visiting other ice shacks, the feeling of the cold air as you are running a lake on your snow machine, or the sound of the auger blades cutting through the fresh ice. Just writing this is getting me more and more excited for the upcoming ice fishing season!
Ice fishing is easily accessible as no boat is required to make it to the water and get to productive fishing locations. Take a look around the popular lakes in your area and you will notice small communities of permanent ice huts. These shacks often reflect people’s personalities, from shape to paint colours. Going to "the shack" on the weekend is a tradition in Northeastern Ontario, and often one people are extremely passionate about.
Tip Ups, Rods, Reels & Line
So now that I have you thinking about the lake, you should also be thinking about what all is required in preparation for the upcoming season. I always like to be prepared for an adventure at a moment’s notice—you never know when a friend will call with a hot tip. Having confidence in your gear goes a long way when you have a trophy class fish on the end of your line.
My preparation starts with looking at tip ups, rods, reels and line. Key components of a tip up that should be reviewed are the line, hook and any indicator mechanisms if available. Next, take a look at the rod blanks for any major chips, guides, and eyelets for line cutting nicks and for old weathered line. If you notice any of the above requiring attention, I strongly advise spending the time or money to do so.
One tip I use is to run a Q-Tip or cotton swab through the ceramics on the guides. The cotton on the swab will tell you if you have any abrasions or nicks in the guides. There are many rod and reel repair shops around the region that will be happy to help. The last thing anyone wants is a gear failure while fighting a fish.
Lures & Tackle Storage
Lures and tackle storage is the next big item, and it can be as quick or extensive as you wish. A simple check and rust wipe could do, or you can go one step further and check all your baits for hook quality. Barbs and hook points should be checked along with any straightened shanks, followed by an overall bait review looking for rust, paint chips, dents or damages. Once your existing baits have been reviewed, I like to take inventory and make note of productive or lost baits. This last step often leads to an exciting shopping adventure—who doesn’t like visiting their local tackle shop?
Don’t forget to review your shelter and auger as they are often the most important part of having an enjoyable experience on the water. Review auger blades for a sharp and smooth surface free from chips and jagged edges. A buttery smooth edge is ideal, especially when using a hand auger. If you are using a gas-powered auger, fire it up to get the fuel through the system and burn off any stabilizers or settled fuel. Small engine repair shops are your place to go for parts or repairs.
Your ice hut hopefully survived summer storage. Best case, no varmints were busy chewing holes or other causing other damage. Straight poles, covers free of tears, and crack-free windows are all ideal.
Safety on the Ice
Now that all of our gear is ready, we should consider our personal safety while on the water. Safety should always be a top priority whether the water is open or frozen.
Early ice is one of the most important times of year to be cautious and is nearly here. Ice forms at a variable rate and a uniform thickness should never be taken for granted. If you dare to hit the water early, bring ice picks, floatation devices and most importantly, a friend. Never hit the water by yourself when the ice conditions are not ideal.
The only thing left to do now is wait for the right conditions and head out on your favorite lake, pond, or river in search for the next tug on your line. Nothing beats the anticipation of getting the knock on your line followed by drag peeling runs; I know this is my "poison of choice" all year long, and something I strive for.
Get all your gear out now and start brainstorming upcoming trips with family or your closest fishing companions (see our list of ice fishing operators here). Ice fishing is a great time to introduce young ones and those not totally committed to the sport of fishing. It’s easy to spread out on the ice and enjoy the cold weather. This year, embrace winter instead of waiting inside for it to pass. Time goes by too fast, and being ready at a moment’s notice never hurt anyone!