Ice fishing is a simple sport. You drill a hole and catch a fish. But somewhere between the hole drilling and the fish catching, millions of dollars is spent on equipment. I know because I have extensively supported the ice fishing product economy and am one of many willing to shell out for every new gadget that hits the ice market.
One thing I've learned over the years is that it's better to invest in quality gear. But even getting started with the best gear will cost you surprisingly little. Here's a list of items to get started with:
BASIC PANFISH ICEFISHING EQUIPMENT
Warm clothes and boots
4-5" Hand Auger
A bucket to sit on
Ultra light combo w/ four pound test
Assortment of Custom Jigs and Spins Rat Finkees in size 10
A tin of maggots
Total cost to get started: under $200
The lure of ice fishing is simple, too. It's all about camaraderie. Whether people are huddled together on four inches of ice on a frozen lake in Illinois, or a group of permanent shacks is parked on two feet of ice in northern Minnesota, the fishing takes a back seat to the total outdoors experience.
Ice fishing is about food. Step on any frozen lake any time of day and get into a group of ice fishermen and you will smell something good. Chili, stew, spaghetti, soup, beanie weenies as well as coffee and hot chocolate is always on someone’s burner. Here are a few simple, and I mean simple, recipes. Remember the golden rule—food tastes better on the ice than in the kitchen.
1 can beans
2 hot-dogs chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Combine beans and dogs and heat until hot.
You can even cook them in the can!
CLAM CHOWDER WITH FISH
1 can clam chowder
3 or 4 panfish filets
Combine fish with chowder and cook until fish flakes and turns white.
EASY FRIED FISH FILETS
1 box premade fish batter
Mix fish in a resealable bag one quarter filled with prepared batter. Fry until golden brown
Ice fishing is about family. More children go ice fishing than open water fishing. Kids love to goof around on the ice and catch fish, too, but the emphasis is always on the goofin', unless the fishin' is fast and furious.
Ice fishing is about liquid refreshments. Even though I'm not a strong advocate and often preach: "Don't drink and fish,” it's all right to have a little nip now and again to keep the blood flowing, especially if you don't drive or operate any dangerous equipment like a gas auger.
With all the pluses ice fishing has going for it, there is still a multitude of anglers out there who have never tried it. The number one reason most anglers don't ice fish is because they are scared. They have never walked on a frozen lake and have no desire to fall through into the icy water.
All of this fear can be alleviated with two words—spud bar. A spud bar is not potato candy, it's an iron rod with a chisel tip used to check the safety of the ice. It's amazing how many ice fishermen don't own a spud bar, but in the area I ice fish, northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, a spud bar is an essential piece of equipment.
One of the most dangerous areas is shoreline ice. While it's pretty hard to drown if you break through the ice in one foot of water, it does make for a miserable day if you fill your boot with frigid water at 8:00 a.m. So you should start spudding (slamming the bar twice into the ice using both hands) from the shore, before you take your first step onto the ice.
Once out on the ice, it's a good idea to drill a hole just to check thickness. Then, as you proceed out to your destination, continue spudding, making sure to step on the spot you've spudded. This may all seem like a lot of work, but your life is worth the effort when you are unsure of the thickness of the ice.
In fact, in over 35 years of ice fishing on river backwaters, the Great Lakes, and early and late ice (when it is the most dangerous), I've never fallen in. I've got friends who have fallen through over a dozen times, driven snowmobiles and ATVs off into the abyss, but all of that craziness is not for me, since an eight-inch bluegill isn't worth dying for.
You owe it to yourself to give ice fishing a try this winter. It costs little to get started, it's a great family activity, food tastes better on the ice, and it is one of the easiest times of the year to catch fish!