What’s so fascinating about fishing on a frozen pond or lake? I can’t put my finger on the allure of ice fishing… but there’s something irresistible about the frenzy that follows the popping of a red tip-up flag. Just watch a few little kids make a mad dash for the ice-fishing hole, cheeks pink with cold and excitement at their first catch of the day, a tiny yellow perch! —Mark Beauchesne
Want to get your family excited about going ice fishing? Here are some basics to help you prepare for your first ice-angling adventure.
Ice-fishing equipment is specialized but simple. You need a sled for moving equipment onto the ice—a big plastic boat sled can haul your gear or a tired child. A homemade sled works great, too; try a wooden box attached to a pair of old downhill skis.
A “spud” can be used to test the thickness of the ice, to make holes in the ice or to re-open holes made by someone else. An auger is a giant drill for making holes in the ice; get a hand auger for the exercise, or a power auger to make lots of holes in a hurry. Use a “skimmer”—a long-handled slotted spoon—to remove slush and ice from your ice-fishing holes.
The most popular ice-fishing device is the “tip-up.” The reel, spooled with several hundred feet of braided line, is submerged in the water; the rest of the device is suspended on the ice by a pair of crossed “arms.” A simple triggering mechanism makes a flag pop up when a fish takes the bait, at which point you pull the device from the water and reel the fish in by hand.
Your bait will usually be near the bottom, so you’ll want a “sounder” to know how far down the bottom is. A sounder is a heavy metal weight with a clip that attaches to your hook or line. Lower it into the hole, and take the guesswork out of how deep to fish. Mark your line with a button or small sinker, and you won’t have to re-sound after catching a fish or changing bait.
For a more active ice-fishing experience, try a jig rod—like a regular spinning outfit with a short (2 to 3-foot) rod. Jig rods are named for the up-and-down “jig” motion the angler gives the bait or lure. They allow you to fish throughout the water
Live shiners are the bait of choice, and are sold in many locations. You will need a bait bucket for them, and a bait dipper, which is a small net to retrieve the little rascals from the cold water. Mealworms and maggots are best baits for sunfish and crappies.
A good pair of insulated boots, heavy wool socks and long johns are musts. A fleece layer is next—or perhaps the traditional wool pants and shirt. Your outer layer needs to be windproof and waterproof; snow pants and a good winter coat will do the trick. Layering will give you and your family better protection and comfort in the cold. Don’t forget a warm hat and mittens.
Snacks and drinks are very important for keeping your energy up on the ice. Fill a thermos with beef stew or mac and cheese, and another with hot cocoa.
A small tackle box carries other items you shouldn’t be without – hooks, spare sounders, non-lead sinkers, lures, jigs, a first-aid kit, pliers and trash bags. For safety and comfort, also bring rope (15 feet), extra clothing (leave in vehicle), a compass, fire starter and matches, a folding lawn chair or pack chair, a heavy blanket, and those handy little instant-heat packets. Consider ice crampons or “creepers” for walking on ice.
Ice fishing is the main focus of the trip, but there is some waiting involved; having activities to keep busy and warm will only add to the fun. Frisbee, wildlife tracking, snow-fort building and skating are favorites. Time of day doesn’t matter, so plan your trip around the warmest part of the day, and keep it short to start. You don’t have to go far from home to have a good time ice fishing. Let’s face it—New Hampshire winters can seem a little long. Having an activity to look forward to makes them much more fun. Enjoy your winter on the ice!
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.