Anglers are easily spotted during summer by their telltale baseball caps and severe sunburn, but ice fishing is a pastime to be endured – enjoyed, even – by many each winter.
There are many practical ways to stay skilled during the plummeting temperatures.
“Once college bass fishing tournaments roll around in the spring, the little bit I am able to get out ice fishing keeps my mind sharp for open water fishing,” said Jason Hawksford, the president of Big Dawg Fishing on campus.
Safety must be considered first. Ensuring that the ice is thick enough to support anglers, gear and trophy fish is of paramount concern.
“A person should always be aware of the ice conditions,” Hawksford said.He suggests consulting Internet sources, which provide region-specific updates. Bait shops can also be of help.
According to Tom Gruenwald, the author of “Hooked on Ice Fishing: Secrets to Catching Winter Fish – Beginner to Expert,” the thickness of ice is not to be assumed consistent among neighboring lakes, as depth of a water body is a great influence.
He cautions that although anglers may already be out fishing, this does not suffice as a determinant of safety. Ice adjacent to the shore should be examined, but pack ice, separated pieces that have combined with other freed pieces, can be dangerous.
It is advised to be prepared should a person fall in.
“One underrated tip to stay safe is to always carry ice picks with you,” Hawksford said.
It is imperative to remain away from the area when helping another person. An actual or makeshift rope can be thrown if ice picks are not available.
Certain gear is necessary, such as an ice auger and a skimmer. In addition, it is important to use “a good selection of ice rods based on which species you are chasing along with tip-ups to use for catching bigger fish,” Hawksford said.
It is helpful to utilize “an arsenal of ice jigs, spoons and rattle baits to fish for everything from sunfish to northern pike to lake trout,” he said.
When fishing, the most fruitful moments are those experienced from inside a boat when drifting or trolling. One does not have this pleasure in winter for the most part.
Remaining in one location is customary, though Gruenwald said it need not be so limiting. Experienced anglers can be observed “often trying dozens of areas and depths before finding the precise hotspots,” he said.
Familiarity with a water body can be achieved by using a map to show water depths and the source and exit areas of water, which could harbor weak ice due to the movement.
The Stevens Point area is home to numerous successful ice fishing locations.
“One spot that is a proven area especially early in the season is the backwaters of the Wisconsin River,” Hawksford said. “Good numbers of walleyes can also be found in areas adjacent to current. Ice will build up in slack water near current, and walleyes often congregate in areas like this as well. Many lakes around Stevens Point offer good weeds and weedlines for targeting bass and northern on tip-ups.”
Perhaps sunshine and the convenience of a boat – drifting, trolling and moving when action is minimal –cannot be reproduced on a frozen lake in winter, but it is suddenly endurable when a flash of gold and emerald appears . . . proving that not all is dormant during these harsh months.