Ice Fishing. The only thing I knew about it before I went was it was cold. Getting geared up was like all winter activities: a pain! It is so hard to move after you have all those layers on, but if you don’t take the time and do it properly you will regret every second of it. I put on thermals, both top and bottom, a jogging suit and a down coat. Snow boots are highly recommended, but it is even better if you have Bogs! I had received a pair for Christmas and they are the perfect ice fishing footwear. Bogs are like snow boots and rain boots combined. My feet stayed very warm and dry, but I also had really good traction on the ice and snow. You also cannot, I repeat cannot, go ice fishing without gloves! I learned this from experience. Everyone in my group had on gloves, I did not! My hands were aching by the end of the day, and changing out the worm was painful! Why did I not wear gloves? Well, for the first part of the day I just had my hands in my pockets. I didn’t even think about gloves until after catching my first fish.
We headed out to a pond at the base of the La Sal Mountains. The area is a Walk-In Access property, so we had stop and call in first. Ice fishing is not an “early bird catches the worm” activity. It is best to wait for the sun to come out and do some work first. We did not head out until around noon, and it actually wasn’t too bad. The area we went is away from any towns or highways. It was very quiet except for the occasionally chatter of passing geese or ducks and the drumming sound the ice makes when it shifts or settles.
I, like most I imagine, was a bit apprehensive about stepping out on the ice. I have seen the horror movies where the person unexpectedly falls through a hole and plunges into the black water. Everyone is clearing the snow from above and following the lost person as they travel below. Those movies scare me! I read up on ice fishing safety before we went out. When ice fishing, you should drill a small hole close to shore and check the thickness. Ice that is 4 inches thick is safe for traveling on. You need 9 inches plus if you are going to take a vehicle out on the ice (that did not apply in our case, since the pond was very small). You also should keep your holes relatively small, watch your step, and never ice fish alone. Finally, be prepared for an emergency to happen. Have rope, flotation devices, and first-aid kits available just incase.
After we got out on the ice and started drilling our holes, I felt comfortable. The ice was very thick, well over a foot, and it was frozen solid to the pond’s edge. To drill a hole in the ice, you can use either an ice auger or a chain saw. Ice fishing is not real popular in the desert, where we live, so we have not invested in an auger. We used a chain saw, and it worked great! It took about ten minutes to get our hole cut in the ice; however, we ran into a much bigger problem once the hole was cut. How do you get the ice block out from the hole? A smart person would have brought a crow bar or break bar to remove their ice block. We brought neither.
Lucky for us, we were the only group out on the pond that day. We had to improvise to remove our ice block. Using a fallen branch we found, which was about the size of a small tree, we pushed our ice block down and under the ice. While this worked just fine, I would definitely recommend bringing the proper equipment so you don’t spend ten minutes scratching your head and wondering what to do.
Once the hole is drilled and the chairs set up, fishing is ready to begin! I love fishing because it is one of the few times I feel totally and completely relaxed and comfortable with just sitting. At home, if I am sitting I feel like I should be working or exercising or doing something else “productive.” I feel nervous with the idea of just sitting, even though sometimes I just would like to sit guilt-free. Fishing allows this guilt-free sitting. Fishing requires me to be patient and focus on the moment at hand. I like fishing because I can sit and think, or I can sit and just listen. Either way, I am relaxed and enjoying myself. It is even better if I am catching something, which was the case today!
One experience unique to ice fishing is the actual ice itself. While sitting quietly in my chair, I kept hearing all these surreal sounds. Some were cracks, others were almost like a drum beating. I heard whistles and groans. Sometimes it sounded like a techno club was partying below my feet. As the temperatures change through out the day the ice on the lake expands and shrinks. These changes can cause the ice to shift or even release air from cracks. The sounds are crazy!
I always like to do a little investigating about what bait is working before heading out. We asked around town to see if anyone had been catching anything out at this particular pond. One person said they heard someone was catching rainbow trout and were using silver spoons. We also decided to grab worms, as they are the go-to bait. Our group had three people fishing, and we split up between three different set-ups: worm, silver spoon, and power bait.
Your gear for ice fishing is similar to any other type of fishing. In magazines, ice fisherman always have short poles. We only had our regular length poles and they worked just fine. For fishing line, we did not have anything special. We just used a five pound test that had been on our poles from summer fishing at Lake Powell. I think it did not matter much for us because the area we fished in was not extremely cold and the fish were not huge. I would invest in better fishing line if you are going on a larger lake. They make special line for colder temperatures just for ice fishing. We used eagle claw worm hooks for catching our fish. They were light weight and small enough for the fish to grab on to. You also don’t want to forget your needle nose pliers for getting out hooks and a stringer for keeping your catch on. Also, a chair is VERY important for ice fishing. You won’t find a nice rock to sit on out in the middle of the lake and standing all day is not much fun either. Some people also bring equipment for starting a fire. We didn’t do that today, as it wasn’t that cold out, but I can see where a fire would come in very handy!
I went with the worm and a small weight. Looking back, I think the weight was probably a bit of a mistake. I still caught plenty of fish, but there were many times I could feel a fish messing with my hook but not quite latching on. I think the weight was causing some hesitation with the fish. Other people in my group did not use a weight and seemed to have a bit of an easier time snagging and landing their fish. Maybe it was the weight for me, or maybe I should work on my hooking skills.
The day started out rather slow. During the first hour, one fish was caught: a bluegill. The bluegill we caught were not terrible large, most ranged around six or seven inches, but they were very fun to catch. The bluegill tended to start out with a “taste test” on the bait. I would watch my line bob around for a bit, and then a bigger tug would finally hit. Timing the setting of your hook with the actual hit made by the bluegill was a bit challenging, but it made for a great afternoon of fishing!
After the first hour, we had all switched to the worm. Nothing seemed to be hitting the power bait or any type of lure. Everything seemed hungry for the worm! Between the everyone in the group, we pulled out over a dozen bluegill, four smaller rainbow trout, and three large mouth bass. I was quite surprised see the bass. The bass were definitely the most fun to catch. They hit the hardest and put up a great fight. It is funny with ice fishing, everyone is standing around that tiny hole in the ice just waiting to see what will come out next. You never really know what you are going to pull up, whether on a boat or land, but for some reason with ice fishing the anticipation is a little greater.
Ice fishing was so much more fun than I thought it was going to be. The landscape is truly beautiful covered in a blanket of snow. The air is quiet. The ice is an experience in and of itself. And the fishing was excellent.
No adventure is complete without a proper snack and beverage pairing! For ice fishing, I paired pork rinds, the hot and spicy kind! They were perfect for ice fishing. They were easy to bring, inexpensive, very shareable, and the spicy hot was great when feeling cold. For the beverage, I went with Pabst! I consider myself a brewery kind of girl. I like to try different beers out and am always reaching for the lager or pilsner I haven’t heard of. But when it came to ice fishing, I felt an American grocery store staple was just the ticket. For the kiddos, I would bring hot chocolate!