Low Impact Ice Fishing

February 10, 2010 by  

By Doug Leier

The “Dog Days” of winter for some begin in December and aren’t officially over until the last drift of snow disappears from the shelterbelt.

I know, Dog Days is generally a summer term referring to a lingering hot and humid period in August, but it also seems appropriate for a long stretch of midwinter weather that just doesn’t’ want to break for the positive.

ice-fishingThis time of year, anglers, hunters and anyone else who enjoys the outdoors usually has on eye on the calendar for the next transition. We wait for change and find excuses around every corner. It’s too cold to fish, there’s too much snow – trust me I know from personal experience it’s pretty simple to decide to stay home.

If weather and reports of slow fishing drag you down, however, don’t despair. I’ve got some advice for helping to fight through the Dog Days no matter the time of  year. Part of the equation is reducing the stress – read simplifying – your time outdoors regardless of the activity.

My go-to guy is fellow North Dakota Game and Fish Department outreach biologist Greg Gullickson, Minot. He’s the only friend on my list who’s gigged flounder in Texas and hooked and cooked ling from North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea. So when I need a few pointers for midwinter ice fishing, I know who to call.

“For me, part of enjoying fishing is at times you need to get back to the basics and not make it harder than it is,” Gullickson says.

Which is good advice for fishing any time of year. “There are thousands of versions of the equipment needed to be an ice angler,” Gullickson says. “The nice thing about ice fishing, and especially this time of year, is you can set out on foot with bare bones equipment and still enjoy it. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a gadget man, but still remember when my ice gear consisted of a five-gallon pail filled with homemade poles made from broken summer rods, and sticks with line wrapped around them. For me, at times I get more enoyment with less, even when then bite is slow.”

As Gullickson explains, it all comes down to supplying the basic needs to ice fish. You need to be able to make a hole in the ice (auger), pole (rods or tip-ups), lures (hooks, weights and bobbers), bait (minnows, smelt, wax worms) and if you desire, some sort of shelter.

And in a winter such as the past two, snow shoes, cross-country skis, and and all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile can reduce the potential for spending your day shoveling and not fishing. The point is, at times reducing the level of potential problems like getting stuck can increase the enjoyment.

Another way to reduce potential preparation time or equipment needs is to look for ready-made holes that are a sign of recent fishing activity and possible success.

“An easy way to make a hole is to ‘magpie,’ or find an old hole that someone had been using and chip it open with a metal bar,” Gullickson recommended.

Think of neighboring ice anglers who spend considerable time to get all their electronics set up and situated prior to dropping a line. With these tips and a little experimenting, you too can get into ice fishing the old fashioned way. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the latest and greatest in gear and equipment. The key is to not let a lack of gear and gadgets keep you from trying a little ice fishing, even if it’s the hook-and-bobber type.

If you approach winter outdoor activity with the right attitude and reasonable expectations, the Dog Days of winter don’t stand a chance at getting you down.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: [email protected]


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