When the mercury plunges to zero and a sheet of ice is the only thing between you and certain death, being organized takes on a completely different tone. Not only do ice fishermen need to be prepared for safety reasons, putting a little extra time into carefully selecting and organizing gear will save lost fishing time and make the experience something you’ll want to share.
The last time Lake Erie froze solid enough to provide ice fishing opportunities for the masses was 2015. When it’s necessary to chase fish like this walleye far off shore, make extra sure your ATV or snow machine is in good running order, the batteries are up to stuff and you take along safety gear including a throw road, flares, cell phone and flashlight with extra batteries.
If you don’t already have it packed, every ice fisherman should carry an ice spud to check ice thickness, a 50 foot length of nylon rope, a pair of ice spikes to help pull yourself back onto the ice surface should you fall through and a class III life preserver. Other essential safety gear to keep handy includes a portable GPS unit, cell phone, flare kit and a pocket flashlight.
Few anglers seem willing to invest in them, but the full body flotation suits produced by Mustang (often worn by emergency personnel) are ideal for ice fishing. This survival suit or any one of these other items could save your life in the event of an emergency.
Floatation suits like this one worn by Morris Langworthy of Precision Trolling Data, are useful for spring, fall and winter fishing adventures. For ice fishing adventures these suits are warm, lightweight and should you end up in the water they might just save your life by adding critical core insulation to ward off hypothermia.
The key to ice fishing success often boils down to mobility and the willingness to move and move often until fish are located. Depending upon ice and snow conditions either a quad or snowmobile may be the best means of transportation on the ice. A fisherman depends on these machines not only for personal transportation, but also to haul the loads of gear that are required for ice fishing. Make sure before venturing onto the ice that your trusty ORV is tuned up, well lubricated, the tank if full of fresh gasoline and the battery is in new condition. While you’re at it give your gasoline auger a similar treatment and sharpen or replace the blades so cutting holes doesn’t become unnecessarily difficult.
Tying on a tiny tear drop is a job best done in the warmth, comfort and good lighting of your garage or workshop. The thread like lines so often used in ice fishing are a challenge to handle when your fingers are warm. Cold fingers and a biting wind make it all but impossible to complete this necessary task.
Don’t head out onto the ice without first rigging several rods with the terminal tackle you’re most likely to need. Having several pre-rigged rods to choose from provides the option of changing lures and colors quickly and should the line break, it’s a lot easier to grab another rod than to tie on tear drops in less than ideal conditions.
PACK EXTRAS OF THE ESSENTIALS
Certain items are essentials on every ice fishing trip. A scoop to clean the ice chips and skim ice out of the hole is a prime example. Take along two of these inexpensive tools and you won’t have to run over to your buddies hole to borrow back your scoop.
A pair of needle nose pliers are more than handy, they are essential when fishing for species like bluegills and sunfish. Big box stores offer lots of inexpensive models. Buy a pair for yourself and one for your fishing friend. Call it a Christmas present.
Clip-on depth finders are another of those items you use every time you’re on the ice. Buy several (they only cost peanuts) and clip one to your fishing parka and keep a spare or two in your tackle box for the times when you forget to clip yours back onto your parka.
A spare minnow net is another small item that is seldom around when you need it. Bring a spare and the next time someone drops the bait net into the bottom of the minnow bucket your hands will stay dry and warm. You’ll be glad you planned ahead.
Plastic bait pucks are the perfect small container for storing live grubs commonly used to catch perch and panfish. Small enough to fit in a pocket and crush proof, your wife won’t even mind if you store wax worms in the refrigerator between trips.
All the major ice fishing brands these days produce crush proof and screw top insulated bait pucks for storing wax worms, spikes or other live grubs. The small plastic containers these grubs are normally sold in won’t last an hour in the real world. These bait pucks are small enough and tough enough to be tucked in your pocket were the grubs will stay warm and active.
Minnows are always a challenge to carry on ice. Most minnow buckets allow the water to freeze and they are easy to tip over, ruining a trip in the process. The best investment is an aerated and insulated container like the Frabill Min-O2-Life. This small cooler with an attached aeration system solves the problem of the bait getting spilled or the water freezing and they are large enough to keep plenty of minnows healthy between trips. A built in net system also makes it easy to recover minnows. Make sure the aeration system has fresh batteries and your minnow worries are over.
When in doubt change it out. It’s always a good idea to change monofilament fishing line frequently, but in the case of ice fishing were ultra thin lines are often used, re-spooling with fresh line goes double. You’ll need a spool of two pound test for bluegills and crappie, four pound test for perch, eight pound test for walleyes and if you fish trout in deep water, a quality low stretch braided like Berkley Nanofil should be added to the list. A spool or two of fluorocarbon leader in common sizes is the ultimate connection to terminal tackle. A couple feet of this line at the terminal end can make a huge difference in how many bites you get, especially when fishing for finicky species like trout or clear water crappie and bluegill.
ELECTRONICS ON ICE
Sonar and video cameras are an essential part of ice fishing, but they all have one failing. Battery power is required to run them and most of these units come standard with low amp hour lead acid batteries. Buy a 12 volt lithium battery and you’ll never be without power on the ice. These handy power sources are light weight, take a charge quickly and can be used not only to power electronics, but a wealth of other gear found in the average sportsman’s garage.
COME PREPARED OR GO HOME EMPTY HANDED
Being organized isn’t a luxury when ice fishing, it’s a necessity. While you’re waiting for the ice to firm up, invest some time in getting your gear into top shape. Advance preparation is the key to insuring every ice fishing trip starts and finishes with warm hands and a warm heart.