The temperature is dropping and all throughout the north we are transitioning from open water to ice fishing. These are exciting times for those of us who enjoy making that switch every year. However, ice fishing presents a unique set of challenges and some very real dangers. Preparation is often the key to success and returning home safely.
Scouting for productive ice waters begins long before we have safe ice on the lakes. It’s a lot faster to cover potential productive water in a boat. Cruising around the lake with electronics and underwater cameras can reveal likely weed-beds and other structures. Covering more water will also provide clues as to which sections of the lake might be more productive that given ice season. Late fall is the best time to accomplish this but a lot can be learned just after the ice comes off in early spring too.
A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to being safe on the ice. However, it’s best to expect the unexpected. Springs, current, gas bubbles, pressure cracks, unmarked spearing holes and thin spots under deep insulating snow are just a few of the dangers lurking out there. It’s best to be prepared in case you do go for a swim. The simplest thing you can do is wear ice picks around your neck, you’ll barely notice them and a good floating pair is less than 10 bucks. I like to take it a step further and also wear an Ascent float suit by Clam. I know if I happen to go in that I’m going to get out and that’s a nice piece of mind to have out there. Lastly, I’m always prepared with a throw rope in case I need to pull someone else out.
Electronics and underwater cameras are a huge component of ice fishing. Having some eyes down below really helps to put more fish in the bucket and make the experience more enjoyable. I make sure to store all my batteries fully charged and definitely check them before I hit the ice. I’ve been using 12v 9ah AGM batteries to power electronics, shanty lights/accessories, and turn a FishSens SondeCAM underwater camera into a portable ice fishing machine. Battery power is also extremely popular for drilling holes and those batteries also need to be taken care of and kept warm if possible while fishing. I drill holes using a cordless drill with a Clam Auger plate and 6-inch auger. You can get a lot of holes with minimal effort out of one of the bigger 4ah batteries. If there is thick enough ice to be traveling by an ATV or snowmobile I highly recommend looking into a lithium jumper pack so there are no worries about the cold draining a weak battery and being left stranded a few miles out. Not to mention they can be a convenient way to charge cell phones and any other electronics you might bring.
Propane heaters are a great way to keep the shanty warm, and 1lb propane tanks become a hot commodity. One way to be less wasteful and save money is to fill them yourself. Just about everyone has a 20lb propane tank at home for their grill, all you need is one of the many propane tank refill adapters out there and some empty 1lb tanks. Just remember to read the instructions carefully.
A little bit of preparation can go a long way towards making this a successful and safe season. So let’s hope the mercury keeps dropping and we are in for a long, cold, and extended ice fishing season this year.