What a nice Christmas present! We finally have some “Big Boy Ice”. The cold weather and temps in the single digits has made the safe ice we needed.
The first trip of the season is always a warm up adventure. It seems like I always forget something. Lists help but it seems like a distraction always makes me forget the obvious.
In preparation for my first trip to Hegben Lake, I first tested my gasoline ice auger. Fresh fuel and sharp blades are a must. I prefer a 6 inch auger and use the lighter weight Solo brand. The blade protector helps keep the edge sharp.
All of my rods were pre-rigged. You will tie a better knot inside where it’s warm. I sharpened the hooks, opened the hook gaps a bit and bent each hook off-set a little. This helps ensure solid hook sets. Doing this ahead of times helps to keep my fingers warm. Tying knots outside in single digit temps is tough. A couple of extra rigged rods allow you to change gear quickly. I adjusted my drags on each reel and cleaned all of the gear. A little Armor all on the guides and rod blanks help keep anything from sticking.
Try some of the new Solar Ice lines in 6-8lb. test. They are designed to not stretch and are durable. If your line is looped with memory, pull the line through a warm glove with a little tension. This will straighten the line and help with a quicker hook set. I use a small barrel swivel and clear fluorocarbon line to attach my jig. Fly tippet is stronger but thinner than standard fishing line. I like colored lines because I can see bites better.
Bait is always a must. I prefer chartreuse, glow jigs. Smaller sizes work well for trout and perch. The Berkley Power Baits work great. Their green maggots are reliable producers and leave a nice scent to attract light biters. Regular worms work well too but mealworms are better producers for me. I sometimes soak them and my maggots in fish scent to stimulate bites.
When you first get to the ice, you need to decide where to go. Use a pair of binos to observe other fishermen or birds. Scavengers love to eat on left over bait or fish parts left by a successful angler. I look for 20-30 foot depths near a shoreline. Cut a series of search holes perpendicular to the bank. Use your fish locator or fish each hole. I often find fish at 10-12 feet. Concentrate where you get lucky.
Folks with hand augers never do this. Their “Popeye the Sailor” arms wear out after just a few holes and they stay put. A power auger lets you move easily and search for eager fish. My goal is to catch fish for dinner, not to go fishing and come home skunked.
If the ice is snow covered, I use my snow shovel to open up the area so more light can pass through the ice. Fish use smell, sight and vibration to locate food. When you get a bite set the hook quickly. Your reels drag will be important to prevent breaking your line. Spring bobbers are a great advantage. Pay attention to your indicators. On some days the fish like the bait jigged but I often dead stick my presentation. Consider any movement a bite.
Keep your gear off the ice. I prefer homemade holders that keep my rods perpendicular to the ice. A 5 foot rod allows me to back away from the ice hole. Short rods are for inside a small shelter. The longer ultralight rod allows for a quicker hook set. I can also deal with bigger fish. Watch your shadow and movement around the holes. I often see fish just under the ice and down to 12 feet or so.
When you hook a fish, don’t horse them. Too many things can go wrong. Let the drag and rod do the work. Once the fish is tired, line the fish up to come head first through the hole. Once the fish begins to come out, don’t stop. Slide them out in one motion.
If you are keeping the fish, make an area to quick freeze them. Maybe do a dissection to see what they are feeding on. I often get another bite just after catching a fish. Get your bait back into the hole quickly. Strikes often come on the sink from other excited fish. Walk off your depth on top of the ice. Let that measure of line out and drop it back into the hole. You will always be at the right depth.
Ice fishing is more fun and safer with a buddy. Take a kid or friend fishing. Comfort is important if you are planning to spend the day. Dry boots and hand warmers are critical. Snacks and treats help too. Normally, I fish 10-2 o’clock when the most light is available.
Nothing tastes better than a fresh batch of trout caught through the ice. We don’t get much fresh seafood in Montana, so take advantage of this seasons great ice fishing.