Guest post by Shantel Wittstruck
When I tell people that I had a really good weekend ice fishing, I get funny looks. The very thought of walking out onto the ice to sit on a bucket in the cold for hours, trying to catch fish through the opening of a small hole sounds terrible—or at least it used to.
Over the last few years the sport of ice fishing has grown immensely, with an increasing number of women in particular hitting the ice. As the sport has evolved, so has the available equipment, and this has made ice fishing more accessible. Women and youth now have clothing and accessory options that fit, are functional, and can keep us warm. Plus, with gear designed to be used by anyone—regardless of age, size, or strength—ice anglers can be more independent and versatile than ever before.
Still, the thought of hitting the ice can be intimidating. How do you know the ice is safe? Do you need a special fishing pole? Will any tackle work? How should you dress? Let’s assume you’ve never stepped foot on the ice, and you want to give it a try. Let’s talk ice fishing 101.
First off, do not go out alone. Ice is both fascinating and terrifying, and I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as safe ice. I cannot express this enough. When ice thickness is checked correctly and safety measures are followed, you can rest assured that your experience will be a good one.
Invest in ice picks that connect around your neck. If you do fall through the ice, you can stab them into the ice, providing an anchor, allowing you to pull yourself out of the frigid water.
You will also need a spud bar. As you walk out onto the ice, you will use this bar in a stabbing motion to create a hole in the ice at least every 100-150 feet. This allows you to measure the ice thickness and test to see if it can be poked through. These are general guidelines for how thick the ice must be:
White ice is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe, so always err on the side of caution.
It’s all about having the right gear. The most expensive thing on your list will be your auger; you can’t ice fish unless you have a way to drill a hole into the ice. Next, you will want a rod and reel combination. You can find great deals on combos, starting at as little as $20! If you are targeting panfish, you will want a lighter rod. If you are targeting a much larger fish species, you will want a medium/heavy rod. Check your state regulations on how many rods you are allowed.
Tackle options are endless, but you don’t need a full tackle box. Stop in and visit your local bait shop; tell them where you are going (if you know) and what you want to catch. Bait shops want you to be successful and will help you in every way they can! They will also be able to get you the bait you need, whether it’s minnows, spikes, waxies, or something else. Bait shops are a great resource!
Electronics are not on your shopping list because they are not required, especially if you are on a budget, but they do give you an advantage!
Borrow (or purchase, if you can) a fish finder. Flashers are used to tell depth and identify fish in the water column below your hole drilled in the ice. Using a flasher will let you see if there are fish below you and at what depth they are present. (Tip: Fish always feed up. Mark the fish and keep your jig just above them. Jig, jig, jig. Play with your techniques; light little tap-tap-taps or jig more vigorously. Entice them. There are no rules.)
If you are borrowing a flasher, have the lender show you how to read it. Otherwise, watch YouTube videos to learn. If you don’t understand it, you may as well leave it at home.
Also, download Navionics on your phone. Record and follow your footsteps on and off the ice and look for structure and depths, if the body of water you are fishing is mapped.
The key to a successful day on the ice is keeping warm and dry. You will need snow pants, a winter coat (wind resistant is even better), warm winter boots, a hat, gloves, and neck gaiter or scarf.
However, what you wear underneath is even more important. Start with base layers or thermals. Wear wool socks. (Never wear cotton directly touching your skin, as cotton will make you cold.) Then, dress in layers—because it’s easier to take layers off than to cut your day on the ice short if you get too cold. Staying comfortable and warm will keep you fishing longer!
Ice fishermen and women are the friendliest subset of anglers! We’re always willing to take in newcomers and provide endless information. We help each other and are a community all our own.
There’s endless information right at our fingertips. Through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google, and many other online resources, you’ll find outdoor opportunities, groups of similar interests, and events for all skill levels.
Women on Ice, The Ice Angler Project, is one of my favorite annual events. Women across the ice belt gather together to share laughs, hugs, high fives, information, and skills, while making memories that last a lifetime…but it doesn’t stop there. Relationships are established and we continue to help each other grow and continue to become successful in the sport. More and more women are taking their children ice fishing, going with friends, and taking advantage of opportunities to spend time outdoors. Catching fish is great, but it’s not always about the quantity and quality—it’s about friendships and belonging to a community.
Most who are willing to give ice fishing a try discover that they enjoy it—it has so much to offer and provides memories that last a lifetime. A good friend of mine once said, “When you stop learning, you should stop ice fishing.” I couldn’t have said it better. Ice fishing is a sport that is always evolving; every body of water and every species of fish is a new challenge.
So what are you waiting for?!