Ice fish­ing doesn’t have to cost a lot

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Wick­strom Lis­ten to Terry Wick­strom Out­doors every Satur­day be­gin­ning at 9 a.m. on 104.3 FM The Fan.

With most of Colorado’s boat ramps clos­ing soon, my at­ten­tion quickly turns to ice fish­ing. When I first ar­rived in Colorado more than 30 years ago, there was a hard core group of ice an­glers here, but the sport had not yet gone main­stream.

Times have changed. The last in­for­ma­tion I got from Colorado Parks and Wildlife is an es­ti­mated 250,000 an­glers ply their hand on the hard wa­ter each sea­son.

A com­mon ques­tion I get is: “What gear do I need to give ice fish­ing a try?” I ad­dressed this ques­tion Satur­day on the “Ask the Ex­pert” seg­ment of my ra­dio show.

You can start ice fish­ing with a very min­i­mal in­vest­ment, and even if you re­ally go all out it can be less ex­pen­sive than the same ap­proach to other angling en­deav­ors. With a lit­tle knowl­edge to guide you, the suc­cess rate can be much bet­ter than open-wa­ter fish­ing.

You re­ally can get started by tak­ing the gear you use in sum­mer and find­ing an open hole in the ice that a pre­vi­ous an­gler has aban­doned, then pre­sent­ing a bait. It can be that sim­ple and in­ex­pen­sive. That aside, the things you should con­sider are com­fort, safety, a way to make a hole in the ice and at least a min­i­mal in­vest­ment in some ice-fish­ing tackle.

Let’s talk safety first. You will never hear me re­fer to “safe ice.” Early clear ice tends to be stronger than later ice, which can hon­ey­comb and erode. Early in the sea­son, I carry a “spud bar” or ice chisel. I use this to check the ice as I pro­ceed, and it also serves as a tool for mak­ing a hole in the ice to fish when the ice is only a few inches thick. Other safety gear you should have are cleats for walk­ing on the ice and “ice picks” you wear around your neck to help you get out if you ever would fall through.

Be care­ful, but if you use com­mon sense, ice fish­ing is one of the safest win­ter ac­tiv­i­ties in Colorado. As the ice gets thicker, you will ob­vi­ously need a way to make a hole so you can fish.There are any num­ber of power augers, in­clud­ing gas-, propane- or elec­tric-pow­ered mod­els that are very good. The ca­sual ice an­gler, espe- cially on the Front Range, can get by with a 6- or 7-inch hand auger and do quite well in most sit­u­a­tions.

The next in­vest­ment I would make is good win­ter cloth­ing. Ice fish­ing won’t be fun if you’re not com­fort­able — al­though, in Colorado,we can ex­pe­ri­ence some very warm win­ter days and still main­tain good ice in­tegrity.

Ear­lier I al­luded to the fact you could ac­tu­ally use your sum­mer fish­ing tackle. It is not the best ap­proach. A cou­ple of ice-fish­ing rods will serve you well. You can get qual­ity ice-fish­ing rods for less than $20 and use your sum­mer reels. You will find it much eas­ier to make sub­tle pre­sen­ta­tions and land fish. The main thing is don’t get rods that are too stiff. They will not pro­tect your line and will have poor sen­si­tiv­ity.

Fi­nally, you need an as­sort­ment of lures and bait.

Most be­gin­ning ice an­glers tar­get trout and pan­fish. An as­sort­ment of jigs and some small spoons will get you started.

For bait, I have had great luck with the Berkley Gulp prod­ucts in the small jars. Most tackle stores will also of­fer some form of live bait. As you progress in the sport, you can ex­pand your tackle se­lec­tion.

In Colorado my first ice-fish­ing out­ing of the year usu­ally takes place around Thanks­giv­ing at places like Red Feather Lakes or North Michi­gan Reservoir.

The very best way to start ice fish­ing is to go with a friend or a guide your first time out. Find out if it’s for you be­fore you in­vest in equip­ment.

If you do get “into it,” the next pur­chases you should make are elec­tron­ics and some type of shel­ter. Us­ing elec­tron­ics on the ice will dou­ble or triple your suc­cess. Mod­els are avail­able start­ing at about $300.

For shel­ters, I am par­tial to the flip-up style like the Fish Trap by Dave Genz. This type al­lows you to move from hole to hole with­out un­pack­ing your gear and greatly en­hances your mo­bil­ity.

Ice an­glers tend to spend too much time in the same spot — some­thing they would never do in the sum­mer.

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