It was early January 2009 and the weather report was looking cold. We’re talking negative wind chills all day long. Parents and teachers moaned and groaned about the bitter cold temps. Us on the other hand, thought we would use the cold day to our advantage. When I say us, I am referring a small group of high school friends. We waited until the school cancellation was announced on the morning news, and we made our way to a small local lake. None of us had ever tried ice fishing on our own before so these basic ice fishing tips would have proved very useful.
Knowing that many of us had never gone ice fishing at all prior to this excursion, we knew an adventure was about to take place. We had plenty of ice fishing live bait such as minnows, and we rounded out our ice fishing gear with roughly 5 tip-ups and 1 lone jigging pole. We caught just enough fish for all of us to catch one a piece, or four fish total for the day. We did however, have a great time enjoying the outdoors. Every time we went out ice fishing after that first time, we tried different ice fishing techniques and different kinds of bait and lures. We attempted to use different ice fishing live bait like night crawlers, wax worms, meal worms and fathead minnows. We even threw in some Berkley PowerBait to mix it up.
Jump forward almost 10 years and we are still using the basic ice fishing tips we started with but have since added many more techniques and experiences to catch more fish than ever. We have branched out past our comfort zones and have been able to go to new destinations and still be successful. Below we will cover a few basic ice fishing tips that can be translated to any lake to help you catch more fish under the ice.
Ice Fishing Safety
The most important tip to remember when ice fishing is safety. It only takes one poor decision to ruin a trip. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has an ice safety thickness chart available to illustrate how many inches of ice are needed to be safe. Four inches is what is recommended for one person, I would not venture out on anything that is thinner than four inches. Additionally, on their website is an ice fishing safety checklist. I would recommend any first time or experienced angler to reference this before going out. For most ice fishing hotspots in Pennsylvania, you can search ice conditions prior to getting to the lake. State parks will usually update the conditions daily. Again, safety is the most important thing to take into consideration when planning an ice fishing trip.
Ice Fishing Equipment Setup
When we first started ice fishing, we would measure the depth of the water using a depth finder and then set the line up about 2- to 3-feet from the bottom and mark it. This way we knew where to reel the line back to anytime we had a fish on. We would catch fish but only very few each trip. After compiling a little ice fishing 101 from other anglers, mainly a man known to many as “Uncle Dan,” we decided to only pull up the line between 12 to 18 inches from the bottom and mark there. We instantly saw more results and began catching more fish. This seems to be a very good depth for any lake, any type of set up and any species for that matter.
We always like to choose a central location for a “base camp” when ice fishing. This is where we set up our chairs and extra ice fishing equipment. We like to have a good view of all of our tip-ups and other setups from base camp in order to see if a flag goes up or a pole is getting a hit.
Primarily we use tip-ups while ice fishing. For those of you that have never heard of a tip-up, it is a device used for ice fishing that sits in the hole. When the fish strikes, a flag pops up and lets you know it’s game time. When you first approach a triggered tip-up, try to determine which way the fish is swimming and pull in the opposite direction to set the hook. The rest is done by hand. Pull the line in with your hands placing it on the ice beside you to keep it from getting tangled. Just like fighting a fish with a pole, if the fish is ready, give it some line and enjoy the fight. After landing the fish place the tip-up back in the water, especially on the really cold days, to keep the reel from freezing up.
Targeting Fishing While Ice Fishing
When we first started ice fishing, we would only target trout. We found that targeting one species of fish can be challenging, so, to add to our success we stopped targeting a particular species and simply started fishing to catch fish.
We tested many of the same baits as before and while all of those baits caught fish for us, we would often only see bites on one type of bait, minnows and shiners. We now use only minnows or shiners as our ice fishing live bait of choice on all of our tip-ups. Using minnows, we have caught trout, bass, pickerel, crappie, perch, bluegill and catfish.
Choosing a spot is one of the most important basic ice fishing tips when targeting fish under the ice. Spot selection can make or break your day. It is also challenging since it is not as easy to know what is below your spot when the lake is frozen. You want to be looking for the same features that you would during the other fishing seasons. Some examples of these are points, weed beds and old structures (old roads, bridges). Some of the best ways to obtain where to target fish are from the local bait shop or other anglers.
Basic Ice Fishing Tips for a Fun Day on the Hardwater
To summarize, here are 7 basic ice fishing tips for a fun and successful day on the hardwater.