Winter fishing can be fun, but make sure to stay safe

By Brandon Butler

Ice fishing is a good time for a number of reasons. First of all, it allows a group to get outside and spend time fishing when most people aren’t even considering the possibility. You don’t have to be quiet, and it’s a fairly simple endeavor.

Only a few tools are necessary; an ice auger, fishing pole with line, hook and bait, and skimmer.

Special ice fishing poles, which are much shorter than normal fishing poles, are beneficial in tight quarters, such as inside a shanty, but regular fishing poles will work if you don’t feel it necessary to invest in special ice fishing gear.

Shanties are ice fishing shelters used to keep anglers out of the elements. They can be made of fabric, like a heavy tent, wood or plastic. You can buy commercially produced shanties, or you can make your own. They’re nice for staying warm, but limit scenery and natural exposure.

The actual process of ice fishing consists of simply lowering your offering down through an augured hole, and working to find the depth fish are holding at. Common practice is to drop your bait all the way to the bottom, and slowly jig it up and down. If you don’t receive a strike in a couple of minutes, reel in a couple feet of line and continue to jig. Fish often are found holding near the bottom, but can be located suspended at different depths.

For panfish, jigs tipped with a worm, beemoth, or minnow are favorites. Jigs used for ice fishing are generally small. Some ice fishermen use various flies normally reserved for fly fishing.

Ice safety is an essential element of ice fishing. Be sure to check the thickness of the ice near the edge of the water you intend to fish. A good rule of thumb is to never fish on ice less than four inches thick. Ice thickness varies across a body of water, so check ice thickness at multiple locations. You don’t want to risk falling through.

Never ice fish alone. Having the assistance of another to pull you to safety if you do break through is imperative. Wear a life jacket and carry an ice pick or screwdriver in your pocket. The jacket will keep you afloat, and the ice pick will allow you to grip the ice and pull yourself out.

If you’re new to ice fishing, try to go a few times with an experienced ice angler before you and a buddy set out on your own.

Ice fishing can be a lot of fun when a group gets together to spend time outdoors during the cold winter months. The group I fish with likes to build a fire in a barrel on the bank of our local pond. The fire sure is nice for warming our hands after handling a few ice-cold bluegills.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at