Ice fishing doesn’t have to cost a lot
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.