So you want to be an ice angler
It’s mid-January and hopefully the lakes and ponds we look forward to icing over are doing just that. If the trend of newcomers that we’ve seen in hunting and warm-weather fishing carries over to ice fishing, there’s sure to be some newbies out there scratching their head and wondering, “how do I get into ice fishing.”
Welcome to the addiction.
My first piece of advice to anyone doing anything for the first time, including and especially ice fishing, is to go with someone who knows what they’re doing. If you don’t know any experienced ice anglers who you can beg to take you fishing, then hire a guide. A good place to start looking for one is the New York State Outdoor Guide’s Association (nysoga.com).
Once you do decide to take up ice fishing on your own you’ll need some gear. Staring with safety, a spud for checking the stability and thickness of the ice is a must, as is a set of ice pics around your neck, a good length of rope and perhaps even some flotation, such as a life vest.
For fishing, you’ll need an auger to drill holes in the ice. Smaller augers (4 inches) can be used for small fish such as perch and panfish, while bigger augers are geared toward larger predator fish like trout, salmon, walleyes and northern pike.
Hand-held augers are fine for thinner ice, say up to 6 or 8 inches. Beyond that, you’ll want some power and there are plenty on the market that run on gas motors, batteries and even propane.
Once you’ve got a hole in the ice it’s time to fish. Some anglers simply use jig poles, which are small fishing rods and reels. They do, however, differ depending on the species you are fishing for.
Perch and panfish anglers use very light rods with light line. From there, the bigger the fish, the more stout the set-up you’ll want.
While tip-ups can be used for smaller fish, they’re defiantly more suitable for large predator fish. There are a variety of tip-ups on the market.
In New York, you can have seven lines in the water at one time, per angler, and they can be any combination of jig rods and tip-ups. It’s up to you.
You’ll need lots of tackle, that too will be tailored towards the fish you are targeting. What you fish for will be determined by your own desires, or just by the lake you are fishing on. Learn about fish species and the lakes you intend to fish. It takes time, but the more you work at it the better you’ll get.
As for accessories, pack baskets and 5-gallon pails are the norm, including for bait, as is a sled to pull all of this stuff around. And when you get some experience, you’ll likely consider a portable ice shanty as well as some electronics such as a sonar-based flasher on the fish-finder side of things. However, stick to the basics first.
While the big-box stores have all this stuff, a local dealer who knows about the gear, how to use it and especially how to fish local waters, is a great resource. Patronize their business and they’ll reward you with knowledge and advice.
Ice fishing is addictive and anyone willing to put some time in can learn how to do it. Good luck, and be safe.