Sporting the right gear for ice fishing
Last week I talked a little about ice fishing safety. This week I will talk a little about the fishing gear that you may want to use to pursue this sport.
Ice fishing gear is not all that specialized. Probably the most specialized component is an ice auger, if you choose to purchase one. You can dig a hole the old-fashioned way ” by hand ” but the auger makes quick work of it.
Most local anglers do not use any specialized tackle. Most carry their gear in a five-gallon paint bucket. The paint bucket not only allows you to carry your fishing and safety gear easily, it affords an excellent seat on the frozen surface. I have also been known to bring a backpacking pad and lay out on a nice day!
A daypack with lunch, snacks, drinks and some spare clothing to layer is also a great idea. You probably should bring something to scoop out the slush from the hole as well. A common kitchen strainer will work just fine.
Most fishermen use the same rod and reel combo that they use during the warm-water months. While there are specialized rods and reels, your everyday gear will work just fine. The advantage of the smaller ice fishing rods (18 to 36 inches) is one of control. You can stay over the hole much easier than you can with a longer rod. Most ice fishing rods also have some sort of platform to keep your reels off the snow. This keeps the reel from freezing up while you are playing a fish.
Most everyday baits will do just fine. Powerbait, salmon eggs and worms work during the warm weather and they work just fine during the winter. Some have even used flies successfully. Most ice fishermen will use lures of some kind and jig them up and down. This vertical jigging seems to be one of the most productive ways to catch trout.
Ice fishing lures come in a variety of forms. You can use everyday lures like Kastmasters, Little Cleo’s, and any other spoons or spinners that flutter. Instead of casting them like you normally would, you simply lift your rod tip up and down, which allows the lure to work and flutter back down. This jigging action catches fish.
A recent innovation is soft plastic lures, which are also great in combination with lead heads. Plastic tubes are great for this type of fishing.
A combination of an attractor blade and bait is also effective. Try adding your favorite bait to a spinner or spoon set-up. I used to use a wire combination that had a blade on one side and a set-up for a hook with bait on the other. It looked similar to today’s spinnerbaits, but was much smaller and was used primarily for panfish. I cannot seem to find any of these in the major catalogs that stock fishing gear these days. A Roadrunner is about the closest thing that I can find, but it has a marabou, lead head jig in place of a bait hook.
Flies can also work for ice fishers. Standard and bead-head nymphs, and even woolly buggers, are great patterns to use while ice fishing. Jigging these seems to produce the best result, as well.
It is important to locate the fish. So if your hole is not producing, move around to other locations on the ice. Also vary your depth until you find the fish. Some anglers will bring along a portable fish finder to find schools of fish and determine their depths.
Ice fishing can be pretty fun. The first time you go out you should go with someone who has had experience with it. The biggest thing is to be sure and be safety-conscious!
Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.