For some, ice can be nice
By John Martino
“I was beginning to wonder if we were going to have any ice fishing opportunities,” said my friend Jeff Newsome as we met in an area bait shop. We were there for the same thing - beemoth. Until the turn of the New Year, winter appeared to be nothing more than an extension of fall. Newsome and I, like many hard water anglers, were preparing to spend time on the ice with family and friends while conditions allowed.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” said Kokomo businessman Kent Kennedy, as he also stopped in for live bait before setting out on his first ice fishing trip of the season. “I want to get out there as soon as I can because you never know what this crazy weather will do,” he added.
Over the past several weeks cold weather locked in many of our area’s lakes and ponds allowing an opportunity to reap a tangible reward for spending time outdoors. However, it could be short lived with extended forecasts calling for above freezing temperatures. But for now, anglers are welcoming the frozen surfaces stilled by winter’s firm grasp.
Not long ago, ice fishing was the realm of guys with big beards and bulbous “bunny” boots. They looked more like arctic nomads than anglers. And although these rough looking characters still shuffle over hard water, the popularity of ice fishing has exploded, bringing in people of all ages and abilities. I call it panfish pandemonium, the reward of fantastic table fare and fun.
Thick ice, like anything new, brings out the excitement for those who enjoy this winter tradition. Maybe it’s because it creates another opportunity to enjoy an exciting outdoor activity, or more than likely the thought of sharing time with friends while coaxing tasty panfish from small, round holes.
Experienced anglers know panfish, like crappies, perch, bluegills and even walleyes can be aggressive feeders as they swim under a cap of ice. But nobody knows everything about places like this, nor should we. Our lives are made better by such mysteries and longing. Being on the ice feels like being reacquainted with an old friend and in some ways, it is.
Being there is like opening the back of an old pocket watch and realizing how complicated the mechanism is. Things proceed at their own pace where man has no influence. Frozen lakes are not just a place of physical transformation. People change too. They learn to see the world differently, to find beauty, not only in serenity but severity. This is a place where a person must accept a certain rawness of landscape and experience, yet still be cheerful.
As with any sport, ice fishing has become more technical. In many cases the iron spud bar of the past has been replaced with razor sharp powered augers. Manufacturers have also developed sophisticated electronic equipment suited specifically for ice fishing. Although these and other products like portable shelters, sleds, and high-tech clothing have made us more comfortable and efficient, all it really takes is a bit of simple, inexpensive equipment to get started, and of course, desire.
Basic tools consist of a hand auger, ice skimmer, a few small rods and several small inexpensive ice lures made specifically for coaxing fish from cold depths. The only other item is a plastic five-gallon bucket to carry everything in and makes a good seat. The best way to get started is to ask almost any ice fisherman if you can tag along. Hard water anglers are some of the most personable and welcome introducing newcomers to our sport.
As with any ice fishing adventure, safety should be the number one priority. Savvy anglers always carry a spud bar to test the ice. Ice picks and wearing a life jacket are added insurance.
To be honest, there is no such thing as safe ice. There are too many variables. The standard rule of thumb is never venture out on ice less than four inches thick. But in reality I have seen clear ice four inches thick that was much safer then white, honeycombed ice six inches deep. And it should go without saying, never venture out alone.
Don’t assume ice thickness is the same throughout the body of water you may be fishing. It can be a foot thick in one area and treacherous in others. Springs, currents, thermal hotspots and even wildlife, like beavers and geese, can keep ice dangerously thin. No equipment can take the place of common sense. When in doubt, don’t go out!
For anyone who takes advantage of our ice fishing opportunities, remember this. There are bold ice fishermen and there are old ice fishermen, but there are no bold, old ice fishermen.