Ice, Ice, Baby!
While most of us swelter in the summer heat, REEL OBSESSION cools off with a refreshing look at the ancient sport of ice fishing
Like most other types of fishing, ice fishing’s invention was rooted not in sport, but in survival. Ice fishing was created out of necessity, when hunters and anglers needed access to food during the long, cold winter months. Native American tribes in the Midwest, such as the Ojibwa Indians, first chipped away at the ice with tools, and then used hand-carved wooden decoys and spears to hunt for fish.
Ice Fishing Equipment
Most modern ice fishermen have upgraded from spears to rods and reels. Ancient ice fishermen would marvel at the ways the sport has evolved and been updated for today. Hand or power augurs have replaced axes and picks as the preferred tool to cut holes in the surface of the ice, greatly increasing speed and efficiency. Ice fishing rods, which are shorter than standard rods, are then lowered into the hole with bait or decoys attached. The rod is either handheld, or employed using a “tip” method. In the tip method, a device is placed over the hole to hold the fishing line. When a fish bites, small flags attached to the line pop up to alert the fisherman.
Some modern ice fishermen take advantage of sophisticated electronics to improve their chances of getting a good catch. GPS devices can locate the spot for a good fishing hole, and “flasher” systems uses sonar to sense depth and movement of the fish below the ice.
To protect themselves from the bitter cold, many ice anglers use shelters called ice huts, or “shanties.” These huts range from basic models made of wood or metal; portable modern structures, resembling nylon tents; or more upscale “trailer” enclosures that may include amenities like heaters, bathrooms, or televisions. It’s not uncommon to see clusters of ice fishing shanties in popular locations. Ice fishing is a social sport, and shanty groupings usually indicate an area where the odds are good you may get a bite.
Tips and Safety
If you’ve never gone ice fishing, it’s a good idea to consult or accompany an experienced angler for your first outing. Longtime ice fishermen know how to check the depth of ice and where to find the best ice fishing locations. They can also advise you on appropriate gear to avoid hypothermia, including weatherproof suits and warm boots and socks. Even if you get expert guidance, keep in mind that ice fishing is never totally risk-free. Sudden changes in air temperature and/or water currents can affect the thickness of ice, and on occasion ice sheets have broken off and left anglers stranded. It’s a good idea to chip a small hole in the ice to judge thickness before venturing out too far, and if you’re new to the sport, don’t head out alone.
Where to Go
Ice fishing is practiced wherever weather conditions permit and there is a body of water (ice) strong enough to support the weight of humans and equipment. Canada and the United States have several popular ice fishing locales, as do many European nations. Stateside, the Great Lakes are a common ice fishing destination, as are many smaller lakes, particularly in the Midwest. If you’re not in the Midwest or can’t travel there, know that some of the best ice fishing locations are outside of that area, including in states such as Colorado and Vermont.