PROFILE OF AN ICE FISHERMAN
There's no standard rule of thumb for what kind of person might undertake the sport of ice fishing, aside from being able to deal with bitterly cold weather. For the most part, what sets ice fishermen apart is where they choose to "cut their hole." In the United States, it's a social sport. Temporary fishing huts are assembled en masse, resembling a small shantytown on a frozen lake bed. Heaters and chairs are set up, the bottle is passed, stories are told and eventually some fish get caught. In Finland, you're more likely to see the solitary fisherman braving the elements fully exposed with a turned over plastic bucket as a seat.
But there are two things common to all ice fishermen -- patience and a resistance to biting, cold weather. Even though a permanent ice fishing shelter might have padded chairs, a heater and satellite television, it's not exactly a comfort sport when you're fishing in subzero temperatures. When most fishermen put the rod and reel in the closet for the winter, ice fishermen haul out the auger and gear for a chilling adventure.
Ice fishing has also changed a lot over the years. Although it's a fun time (for them) to set up shop and warm the belly with whiskey, waiting for the fish to swim by, modern ice fishermen move around the lake quite a bit in search of the catch. Some fishermen have been known to drill as many as 100 holes or more per day trying to locate the fish. Popular most anywhere there's a long and brutal winter, ice fishing is most common in the United States, Canada, Finland, Norway, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine.
Ice Fishing (cont)
In many respects, ice fishing isn't too different from summertime lake fishing. You use a regular rod and reel and bobber, standard lures and bait and fishing line. But to fish beneath the ice, you'll need quite a few pieces of supplementary equipment. For example, unless you want to brave the elements, you'll want some kind of shelter. Temporary fishing huts are the most popular because they're easy to set up and to move. Many times, moving from place to place is essential if you want to actually catch some fish rather than just chew the fat with your grizzled, ice fishing buddies.
Semi-permanent shelters are also common these days. Some of them resemble mobile homes on the ice more than a fishing shanty. Equipped with electrical generators, you can heat your hut and listen to the radio or watch television if you so desire. These shelters are usually equipped with wheels for easy transport. All you do is hook it up to a small truck, ATV or snowmobile and haul it to the next "hot spot."
Another essential piece of gear is the auger. Hand augers can do the trick, but if you're not into spending too much time or energy, using a power auger is the way to go. These look like massive power drills and they perform the same task -- boring large holes into the deep, frozen lake surface. Once the hole is drilled, you need to keep it from freezing back over. If you're in a hut, place a heater near the hole. Have a skimmer handy to pull out the bits of slush and ice that form. That way you don't have to subject your fingers to frostbite.
Ice Fishing (cont)
Catching fish in a frozen lake isn't so different from catching them in the same thawed lake. The techniques may vary some, but in the end you're dropping bait or a lure into the water in hopes that a fish will clamp down and hook. But you'll want to fish deeper than you normally would in the other seasons. In fact, you'll fish near the bottom of the lake. The water in a frozen lake varies from about 32 degrees to 39 degrees. The "warm" water will be nearest to the bottom, and since fish want to be comfortable, too, they'll most likely be hanging out down in the depths.
If you're looking for a place to drop your hut and cut a hole, the old adage is: "Look for the other fishermen." This is true to a large extent. Chances are, if you see a cluster of ice fishing huts and folks are having a good time, that's a great place to set up shop. And in the United States, ice fishing is a social event, so other fishermen don't mind grouping together to spin a yarn or two while waiting for a bite.
The use of flashers is becoming increasingly popular as well. A flasher is the winter version of the summer lake "fish finder." It's a sonar system that provides information on depth and whether or not there are any fish swimming around the area -- a major upgrade from the old days when ice fishermen would simply sit over a hole and wait for the catch to swim underneath them. Flashers are able to render information in real time, as well as indicate the location of your lure or bait. This means that an ice fisherman can literally locate a fish beneath him and position his hook in the exact place most likely to catch the fish's attention. You'll be vying for the same fish that you would in the summer in these locations -- pike, crappie, sturgeon, perch and walleye, just to name a few.
WHY YOU SHOULD THROW IT BACK
Ice fishermen, more so than other types of sport fishermen, are less likely to practice catch-and-release. They're typically out for dinner, not a trophy to mount for the wall. For conservation sake, ice fishermen are encouraged to follow the local rules and ordinances that dictate how many fish can be kept, what size is allowed and how many different lines are used in a single hole. As long as ice fishermen follow the guidelines, fish taken from frozen lakes aren't in danger or threatened.