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RBC — This winter is good time to take up ice fishing.
Ice is a great equalizer. The frozen surface of a reservoir is an open court, a level playing field that allows ice anglers to delve into a reservoir’s nooks and crannies that are unavailable from shore in open water. Anglers that have waited on the sidelines for the playing to harden, now march into the game waving ice augers, dragging sleds and toting plastic buckets bristling with short fishing rods.
Getting started in ice fishing is relatively easy. With just the basic equipment, newcomers to the sport can discover the joys of exploring the mysterious watery world beneath the ice. An ice-fishing hole is like a portal into another dimension.
What you will need to get started:
n Ice auger — The manual type with a 6-inch blade is suitable for ice up to 20 inches thick, the hole is large enough to land nearly all species and it is easy to transport.
n Rod and reel — Short rods are nice because they put you closer to your work, but some of the best ice fishers I know use ultra-light spinning rods.
n Fishing line — Keep it light, 4- to 6- pound test is good for everything but larger species such as northern pike and lake trout.
n Lures — Put together a small tackle box filled with a selection of small spoons, hooks, split shots and small plastic jigs
n Bait — For trout and yellow perch try mealworms, nightcrawlers and prepared baits. For crappie, bass and walleye, minnows cannot be beat.
n Ice scoop — For removing ice shavings from the hole and keeping the hole free of ice.
n Pliers — Needle-nose pliers will allow you to flip the fish off the hook without handling it, which is handy for releasing fish that you decide to release.
n Bucket — A five-gallon plastic bucket is an ice-fishers best friend. It serves as fishing chair, tackle box, rod carrier, lunch box, cooler and creel, all in a virtually indestructible container that comes with a handle. The taller, seven-gallon bucket is the deluxe model.
Ice fishing is all about jigging; casting skills do not apply here. Drop the bait or the lure down the hole and either jig it up and down or let it just hang there. About the only options in the science of jigging are fast or slow. A shiny spoon dancing a lively jig is likely to capture the attention of a cruising trout, but so might a lump of flavored dough lying on the bottom. A good strategy for ice fishing involves using side-by-side holes, one for jigging, and the other for a baited rod. Jigging can draw fish in for a closer look. But if the jig does not trigger them to strike, they may discover the bait lying under their noses.
Ice fishing, however, is not entirely without challenges. There are, after all, strategies involved in choosing a good location and being there at the right time.
In choosing a location for trout, a good place to start is out from a shoreline in depths in the 10- to 20- foot range. Just as in summer, trout cruise the shore in winter looking for food. Look for a weedy bottom with a nearby drop-off to deeper water. Mornings and evenings may provide more action but trout are opportunistic feeders, and they will eat whenever they run across something that they find suitable.
Fish such as yellow perch, crappie, saugeye and walleye tend to concentrate their feeding activities around dawn and dusk. They also tend to group together into small schools. When targeting these species, keep moving until you find them. If they stop biting, try moving a short distance into deeper or shallower water. When fishing for yellow perch, you may end up with several groups of holes, where you may locate the school as they move about the area.
Ice fishing activity leaves a lot of evidence on the ice. Areas with lots of old holes and obvious fishing activity are indications that other anglers caught fish there. Such areas are always good starting points if you are not familiar the reservoir.
Ice fishing may try your patience in the beginning but it can teach you patience once you get the hang of it. Portable sonar units can help build patience and boost confidence. They pinpoint bottom depths, locate structure and raise your level of anticipation when a fish appears on the screen.
No article on ice fishing is complete without a note of caution. Ice fishing is a safe sport when carried out with caution and common sense. For more on ice safety, go to http://wildlife.state.co.us/fishing/.