Ice Fishing Tips

Instead of waiting out the spring thaw indoors, find a frozen lake and try ice fishing.

Ice fishing is a popular winter tradition for many northern anglers.

Ice fishing has come a long way in recent years. Gone are the days of holing up in a decrepit shanty and stuffing your inner layers with Hand Warmers while hoping for a bite. Advancements in tackle and power augers, as well as mobile blinds like the Banks Stump Ice, make catching a winter stringer of fish more enjoyable than ever.

Stay Mobile

Everyone has their favorite fishing hole, even if it happens to be under a foot of ice. While it’s tempting to keep hitting the same spot every weekend, if you’re not getting any bites, move on. After all, do you fish the same spot day after day during the summer if you’re coming up empty? Likely not.

But the beauty of a Stump Ice fishing shelter is that it’s super easy to move from place to place. With a rigid hitch and sled base, all you need to do is hook up your ATV and drag the blind to your new location. Windows on all sides enable you to keep an eye on tip-ups, and two holes in the treated wood floor give you easy access to the ice.

Shallow water with vegetation has long been a favorite of ice fishermen though these locations are best in early winter. As the season progresses, fish will seek out deeper water where there’s more food. Bluegills and crappie as well as the larger walleye and muskies hug deepwater structures like rock piles where they prey on smaller fish. Follow the fish.

Equipment and Techniques

Before dropping a hook in the water, you’ve got a bit of work to do, starting by using a stout chisel or auger to create a hole in the ice. Use an ice scoop to break up the thin ice that will quickly form in the hole. Never underestimate the usefulness of a five-gallon bucket. It can serve as an extra seat, hold tackle and tools, and store live bait, which for most game fish, consists of minnows, waxworms, butterworms, mousies or spikes. Sometimes it’s the simple plastic bait with a wriggling tail on a round jig head that’ll coax stubborn fish into biting. Vertical and horizontal jigging spoons in various colors like chartreuse, blue or red work well too.

However, lighter lines and fast rod actions are preferred by ice fisherman these days. These are often coupled with two- or three-pound test line for panfish and eight-pound for larger fish. Lighter tackle allows anglers to be less “present” in the water because lighter line and smaller hooks are harder for fish to see. Using a mechanical strike indicator called a tip-up suspends bait under the ice. When a fish takes the bait, it triggers a flag to pop up and notify the angler that he has a fish on the line.

Chumming is another great method for catching more fish. Crush up a handful of worms or minnows and drop them in the hole. This will attract fish more quickly and cause them to aggressively strike your bait.

Safety

Anytime you’re walking on ice there is the potential for danger. What may have once been a thick slab of ice in years past, might not be so sturdy anymore. Use a chisel or auger to test the ice by drilling holes as your move farther out.

Use a drill and a depth finder when ice fishing to find where fish are congregating.

Use a drill and a depth finder when ice fishing to find where fish are congregating.

Generally, new ice is stronger because as it ages, the bond between the crystals decays. Only walk on new ice that’s at least four inches thick and don’t operate a snowmobile or ATV on anything less than a half foot or thicker. However, ice doesn’t freeze uniformly and can vary in thickness across a body of water. Old ice that has begun to thaw is not safe to walk on even if it’s a foot or more as it is very fragile.

Wear a life jacket underneath your outer layer at all times and keep ice axes nearby. If you do fall through, they can aid in getting you back up to safety. Keep a winter survival pack inside your tackle box or fishing hut that includes matches or a fire starter (don’t start a fire on the ice), an emergency blanket, a whistle, flares and dry clothing.

If you can’t sit indoors all winter, ice fishing is a great way to keep active. For many, it’s a coveted tradition they can’t live without. Either way, a plus to using a Banks Stump Ice is you’ll fish in comfort throughout the winter. Then, when the spring thaw starts, simply tote the blind off to the turkey woods.

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