Another season of ice fishing is upon us!

Want to try your hand at ice fishing this year but need some answers?
Many people I talk to over the course of year ask me what I do in the winter time. Ice fish of course, I tell them. Some give a look of amazement like that could possibly be fun!
Not only is it fun but it is a recreational pursuit that anyone can afford. That would explain why over the last ten years this segment of the sport fishing industry has seen the largest growth. In fact, there is so much new equipment out there for the hard water enthusiast it’s hard to keep up.
Lets start out though by talking about the basics, what does a person need to start catching fish through the ice. That is a pretty simple answer, enough good ice to make it safe to venture on. The standard guidelines are 4 inches to walk and when you do go, bring someone along.
Also early in the season you will want to travel light. Don’t haul a heavy auger around if you don’t have to. A simple hand auger will usually suffice early in the year or even a spud bar (heavy metal bar with sharp nose) can easily make holes. Carry all your equipment on a toboggan or sled and bungy cord them down if you are going over some rough terrain. You should also have along a five-gallon pail to sit on, along with an ice skimmer to clean the holes that you make in the ice. Into this bucket you can fit a small lure kit, along with skimmer ice rods, bait and some snacks.

On your feet wear boots that are waterproof if possible. I have had the same pair of rubberized, insulated boots for ten years and my feet have never been damp once. I do recommend ice cleats, especially early in the year with little snow cover. It can be darn slippery and bones have been broken, These cleats will fit over your existing footwear and give you the stability you will need.
While its hard to cover as much area ice fishing as from a boat, there are certain things you can do to increase your chances of contacting fish. It sure pays to bring along a portable GPS with the waypoints locked in to the areas you were catching fish in open water. After establishing location, check depths through the ice with your portable fish finder. Look for the edge of the drop-off combined with both points into deeper water as well as inside turns, then start drilling holes in a grid pattern and spread out. That’s why it’s so much better to make ice fishing a social event, the more anglers the better in many cases as it shortens the time it takes to find fish and figure out what they might bite on that particular day.
On your first trip to the lake, start out at daylight so you can figure out just how much ice you do have. That’s why you bring along basic survival gear such as rope, ax, waterproof matches, whistle, first aid kit, ice picks, cell phone just in case the unexpected happens and you get stranded.
As you start exploring the lake to find active fish, you might have to try a number of different areas and depths but once you do make contact, drill a number of holes near the productive spot and get ready to catch some fish. Weather also plays a factor and if the daytime bite is slow, there might be an opportunity for a pretty impressive night bite on the same body of water. More and more ice anglers that I now are bringing along portable shacks and lights to wait out a slow daytime bite. Walleye in natural lakes will move off the edges of the drop-offs during the day right up to a metre of water during the night. When night fishing and even during the day use two rods when you can, one with a set line and the other with a lure that is jigged.
On lakes outside provincial and federal parks in Manitoba you can use live minnows.(check individual lake regulations in your Manitoba Anglers Guide) This is a good option on a body of water like Lake of the Prairies. Get a tail or dorsal hooked minnow down just off the bottom on a set line, then work a hole just a couple metres away with a jigging spoon. Sometimes the fish will take the set bait, but more times than not, they will smack the aggressive presentation at first ice.
Using an underwater camera in conjunction with portable electronics can really help in understanding what is happening down below your ice hole. These are just a few of the aids now available on the market.