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Outdoors with Ken Hunter… Ice Fishing 101

With the hunting seasons winding down, it’s time to start concentrating on fishing again. A lot of people are probably saying fishing season is a long way off and fish don’t eat during those long, cold days when lakes are covered in a layer of ice, but nothing could be further from the truth. In my younger days, I too thought fish went into some kind of stupor and I couldn’t imagine one of those farm pond bluegills actually trying to eat something in the dead of winter.

Almost all of the fish you catch in the warmer summer months can also be taken in the cold winter months — albeit some are more apt to feed than others. Panfish, which include bluegills, pumpkinseeds, crappies, and perch all feed readily throughout the winter months. Like all fishing, the ability to be successful is largely dependent on using the right equipment in the right locations. Granted, the equipment used for ice fishing is quite different than what is used in your normal summertime pursuits.

Basically, you can break down the equipment used to take fish through the ice into two major categories — tip-ups or fish ‘snares’ if you will and jigging rods. Tip-ups are devices that generally signal with some sort of flag that a fish has taken your bait. While tip-ups come in a number of different forms, shapes, and sizes, they all have a flag that pops up to signal a hit. You do not manipulate or “work” a tip-up; you simply set the trigger device and place the tip-up in a hole and wait for a fish to take the bait dangling beneath the tip-up. When the flag pops up, you go to the tip-up, remove it from the hole and hand hook and play the fish. In my early days of ice fishing, the tip-up was the only type of equipment that my fishing buddies and I ever used. If rigged properly, that could be utilized for any species of fish; you simply geared line, hooks, and bait to the particular species you were targeting. Fishing regulations allow an angler five “unmanned” devices. In my early days of ice fishing, I would drill five holes, place my tip-ups and wait for something to happen. There were times that the fishing was so hot we couldn’t keep all of our tip-ups in the water; other times it could be incredible slow.

While tip-ups can be very effective, it’s not the only way to put fish on the ice. Another very popular, and also very effective, way to ice fish is with some sort of jigging rod. One advantage to the jigging rod is it keeps the fisherman much more active and involved in the process, and another big advantage is that it provides for much more mobility. Moving tip-ups around is more time consuming while sampling different locations and depths with a jigging rod is as simple as drilling a new hole and dropping the bait to the desired depth.

Like tip-ups, jigging rods and reels also come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and lengths. Generally speaking, the rods are much shorter than conventional fishing outfits and the reels are often smaller. These outfits can be fished with or without a bobber or strike indicator. Since tip-ups are stationary and not being manipulated by the fisherman, they are generally baited with live bait, but a jigging outfit can be fished with live bait, or it can also be very effective with an ice fishing jig of some kind tipped with some sort of bait like a wax worm or the like. It is not unusual for many of the “frozen chosen” to fish using both tip-ups and jigging outfits; for example — three tip-ups and a couple of jigging rods.

Before you run out and invest in a lot of this stuff, I recommend you go ice fishing with some avid ice fisherman — most are more than happy to share their equipment, and that will help give you a better idea of what you might want yourself.

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