There’s the relaxing splendor of shoreline fishing – and, there’s also not. Some fishing conditions are anything but relaxing. (And we’re not talking about grabbing catfish directly with your hands as they do in southern U.S. waters; that’s for another time.)
Ice fishing has been around for as long as humans have forged for food during long, cold winter months, and all parts of the world – at least those that deal with frozen waters – have an ice fishing history, from Canada to Russia to South Korea. It’s gotten so big that competitive contests, like past Forest Lake VFW Fishapalooza events in Minnesota, boast payouts of $175,000.
Yes, even ice fishing has a glamorous side.
Like Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota, for which realclearlife.com writer Diana Crandall makes a strong case as one of the world’s most enticing spots for frozen fishing. The self-proclaimed “Walleye Capital of the World” shares a border with Canada and contains the Northwest Angle, which is the northernmost point of the Lower 48 States.
“Lake of the Woods has the accommodations and resources to turn an ice-fishing trip into a full-blown vacation, complete with snowmobiling and cross country skiing for anyone who isn’t keen on staying on the ice all day,” Crandall wrote in 2018. “We don’t know why they wouldn’t, though — there are dozens of pre-heated fish houses, and if you opt for a sleeper fish house, there’s a chance you can glimpse the Northern Lights.”
Everyday anglers, however, have, er … bigger fish to fry, though, with an emphasis on gear and safety first.
When it comes to ice fishing, the priority, as with many extreme passions, is on safety, much more so than it’s summertime counterparts which can prioritize everything from floppy hat selection to best shoreline beer coolers, or pairing Dramamine with boat fishing.
Ice augers make it all possible, with an available variety from hand crank versions to electric or gas powered ones. Newer augers, explains fishusa.com, even attach directly to a cordless power drill for more ease and efficiency to carve out that perfect hole, usually at eight to 10 inches in diameter. (Don’t forget to invest in a skimmer to remove ice shrapnel as you drill.)
Where to drill? That’s especially where the safety comes in to play.
“Many fishers will go out with 2.5 inches of good ice for walking, but the recommended depth is 4 inches, 5-6 inches for sleds (Snow Machines, Snowmobiles),” New World Encyclopedia recommends. “Care must be taken, because sometimes ice will not form in areas with swift currents, leaving open areas which freezes with much thinner ice. Late-winter warm spells can destroy the texture of the ice, which, while still of the required thickness, will not adequately support weight. It is called ‘rotten ice’ or soft ice and is extremely dangerous.”
Once you drill through, before dropping that line into the abyss, the focus is still on safety. Fishers may carry a self-rescue device made of two spiked handles connected by a string to pull themselves out of the water should the unthinkable occur. Life-saving flotation assisting ice fishing bibs are also recommended among properly layered outerwear.
While obvious extras include waterproof boots with excellent traction, don’t forget to go with polarized eyewear to mitigate the frozen surface’s super bright glare.
On-ice tiny structures, or shanties, aren’t a must. But, hey, who are we kidding? Extra shelter to keep warm is almost as important as style!
Permanent shelters are made of wood or metal and usually have wheels for easy transport, but lower-maintenance options include collapsible tent-like structures for around $300. The sturdier options will usually be able to withstand heaters to keep the angler warm, but even with that be aware of shanty ventilation if carbon monoxide is a factor.