Ice Fishing Can Make the Cold Days of Winter Go By Fast!
by: Parker Wright
Many anglers hang up their rods and hangout indoors during the cold, dark months of winter counting the days until they can get back out there. I feel pity for these anglers, as the winter months in Vermont have so much to offer. Fishing on the rivers is one of them. This doesn’t sound appealing to many anglers. It may have to do with the fact that you’re standing in the middle of the river pursuing fish that can be tricky to catch even when the conditions are ideal. There is, however, a slightly more appealing way to fish in the winter, instead of standing in the water why not stand on it? That’s right, Ice Fishing. Ice fishing can make the cold days of winter go by fast, and by April some anglers are already looking forward to the next December when ponds start to freeze over.
Ice fishing usually starts in Mid-December and ends around Mid-March (depending on the weather). There’s three months of fishing to be had out on the hardwater. Whether it’s pike that gets your heart pounding, a big bruiser of a lake trout, or even a pail full of yellow perch, there is a species and method to suit your desire. Ice anglers typically use a combination of tip-ups and jig sticks to target these fish. Jig sticks are more or less miniature fishing poles usually consisting of a light action rod and a light spinning reel, with line ranging anywhere from 2lb to 20lb test. Lures and baits used on these rods can be anywhere from a tiny 1/32oz jig tipped with a maggot to a 4 or 5oz jigging spoon with an entire smelt hooked on. Many anglers prefer to use only jig sticks when targeting yellow perch and other panfish because it allows them to stay mobile, following a school around and consistently catching fish.
Tip-ups on the other hand consist of a set line, usually baited with a minnow or night crawler. More frequently tip-ups are used when pursuing larger game fish such as trout and pike. These baits can be placed anywhere from a few inches under the ice to a few inches off the bottom and everywhere in between. When a fish takes one of these baits and begins to swim away the submersed spool begins to turn which then sets off a flag alerting the angler that they have a fish. The angler then pulls the tip-up out of the hole and pulls the fish in by hand. Knowing how and when to use these two methods alone or combined will help keep you catching fish throughout the winter and give you the fix you need.
Let’s start with jigging. A rod with a length between 17 and 26 inches with a medium or medium-light action will get the job done. Having a spinning reel spooled with anywhere from 4lb-8lb test is a good all-around strength as well. As for lures, you really don’t need a whole lot, it depends more on what you are targeting. Having said that, Hali Jigs, Swedish Pimples and Kastmasters are three of the most common and effective jigs for the winter season. Hali Jigs are typically used for smaller species of fish but Swedish Pimples and Kastmasters have a size to suit any need, from smelt to northern pike, they each have a size that will work. Tipping these jigs is very important. Spikes or Maggots are probably the most common bait used to tip lures during the ice fishing season although perch eyes, fillets of minnows and even Gulp Artificial baits can produce consistent strikes as well. Locating fish is the challenge, however, once you find them these species tend to hold in schools. These schools of fish are frequently found near drop offs, weed beds and sometimes suspended below schools of baitfish.
Now lets move on to tip-ups. There are many different brands and styles. Everyone has their personal favorite. The guides here at The Fly Rod Shop prefer Heritage tip-ups because they are heavy duty and function very well even in extreme cold temperatures. Never-the-less, all tip-ups have the same purpose, to catch fish. When setting up tip-ups there are a few things to keep in mind. Setting up a series of tip-ups in rows will help you produce more action. A straight line perpendicular to the shoreline will allow you to cover different depths. Often, one depth is going to produce more fish on a given day (depending on water temperatures). This means that one tip-up will produce more strikes than the others. Once you have found which hole is producing, you can then place more tip-ups in another line perpendicular to that specific hole allowing more tip-ups to be set at that “magic” depth. Using this method on a day when the fishing is slow can turn a 2- fish day into a multi- fish day. Locations for tip-ups depend directly upon what kinds of fish you are after. Pike are typically caught in 2 to 15 feet of water near or on weed beds and drop- offs. Rainbow Trout can be caught in 18 inches of water on sandy or rocky bottoms, and Lake Trout can be caught in depths over 80 feet of water or on the bottom.
So for all you anglers hanging out on your couches waiting for spring, why wait? You don’t need to break the bank to get started ice fishing and it could end up being your favorite way to spend the winters or even your favorite way to spend time out on the water. If you’ve got any questions call The Fly Rod Shop. Better yet, if you want to get a feel for it, book a trip with one of our experienced guides and let us show you all that is needed to experience a fun winter on the ice.