Fish On Ice

Thanks to Dan Donarski for another guest blog piece with great advice for those looking to get out and try ice fishing this winter.


Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing

Yes, it is February, the shortest month of the year, yet the one that seemingly takes the longest to get through, to survive. Days are getting longer, there is more sun, but winter has its icy talons still clenched tight to your heart, and your sanity.

Deal with it. Have fun dealing with it. With so many gaming choices so close to tremendous ice fishing waters there is no reason to come down with a case of cabin fever. From Minnesota to Indiana, ice fishing puts anglers on a level playing field.

I’ve been glad the temperatures at night have been downright cold. The kind of cold needed to make thick, hard, clear ice. The kind of ice needed to give me the confidence to venture out, drill some holes, sit on a bucket and wait. This year it seems that this type of cold has been a long time coming.

Sanity must be questioned when the subject of ice fishing comes up. I mean, how can you rationally explain to anyone the reason you sit out on the ice all day hoping to catch a fish? Sitting in a shanty, starring down into a blue hole for hours on end is a bit odd even if the shanty is heated. The only exception here is in a shanty equipped with a TV, microwave oven, stove and often carpeted, these babies even use a refrigerator to keep the drinks cold.

Ice fishing does offer some advantages. Everyone is equal at the beginning of the trip. You don’t need a boat. You don’t need a lot of expensive or special gear. You don’t even need to buy a lot of fancy lures. Your feet, your old rod and reel, something to poke through the ice with, and a few tear drops are really all you need. Your only constraint is how far you want to walk, how much ice you want to drill, and what kind of bait you want to use. Under most conditions, the clothes you wore deer hunting will suffice quite nicely as well.

If you love walleyes and perch on big water, check out the Linwood area and Saginaw Bay or Little Bay de Noc. While nothing is a sure bet, these pieces of icy real estate come awfully close.

Gear for these fish is easy. A few jigging Rapalas or jigging spoons, a handful of tear drop jigs and a bucket of minnows is all you’ll need. Rod and reel combos spooled with six to eight pound test will do very nicely for these two species.

The same gear will work well on the inland lakes for these fish as well. In the Upper Peninsula, not mentioning Lake Gogebic, Indian, and North Manistique, would simply be wrong.

If you are after panfish like bluegills and crappies the tackle is even easier. Light action rods with no more than four pound test and very light jigs. Either small minnows, wax worms, mousies or maggies are the baits you should be looking for.

Panfish opportunities run from north to south and east to west. Just about any lake will have them. There are a number of lakes that deserve special note.

Oakland and Livingston Counties are littered with small lakes, a number of these are inside the numerous State Recreation Areas and the Metro Parks. Crappies, bluegills, red ears– they’re all here, and in some cases big in size and in numbers. Towards the “top-o-the-mitt,” index finger to be specific, Fletcher Pond, near Alpena, as well as Cook, Loud and Foote Dam Ponds just west of Oscoda offer a superb pan fish fishery.

In the U.P., you’ll find the Cisco Chain of Lakes in the Watersmeet area. Dozens of lakes give you all sorts of options when it comes to panfish. Iron County, based out of either Crystal Falls or Iron River, will give you access to some hidden lakes and put you on some of the largest gills in the state.

Ice fishing does come with its inherent hazards. The biggest of these is the ice thickness. While the Coast Guard and Natural Resource Departments of the states will tell you there is no such thing as safe ice, and they are right, there are rules of thumb.

Clear ice is harder and stronger than cloudy ice. Four inches of clear ice is generally considered safe for walking on. Snow machines and ATVs need at least eight. What about cars and trucks? Well, here you are on your own. My personal rule is nothing less than 14 inches, but 16 is better.

An even better rule of thumb is to only go out with locals, or follow locals out on the ice. These guys know the conditions. One rule you should never violate is always go out with another person.

Staying warm will be key to your enjoyment. Dress in layers– that way you trap more body heat than if you wore one very heavy layer. Stay dry– this one is self explanatory. Cotton clothing will not keep you as warm as poly fleece. Wool may be the best answer because even if it gets wet it will still keep you warm.

Ice fishing doesn’t have to be a winter activity that you simply struggle to enjoy. Choosing the right lakes, choosing the right tackle, and the right clothing will help keep your fun meter pegged.

Dan-DonarskiDan Donarski is an award-winning journalist/photographer and author. He specializes in the outdoors and adventure travel. When he’s not out and about he lays his head in Sault Ste. Marie.