Ice fishing basics

My favorite wintertime activity is ice fishing. I find it relaxing, and there’s just something about the flavor of pan fish pulled out of ice-cold water.
Chris Larson is the regional fisheries supervisor with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He says the most important part of ice fishing is to make sure the ice is safe. It should be at least four-inches thick. Wear layers of clothing to stay warm, heavy-duty boots, and ice cleats to prevent slipping. You will need an auger to drill a hole through the ice and a scoop to clear the hole. A five-gallon bucket is nice to carry equipment in, and also makes a great seat. A sled can be used to transport the gear. 

The fishing poles don't need to be expensive. 

"You're not fishing very deep water, you're not casting this thing, you're just letting line out. So I would recommend spending $5-$15 on my fishing equipment. Probably the most important thing is line weight," says Larson. "You want very light line in the wintertime, we're talking 2-4-pound test line, and very small little ice fishing jigs. Some of my favorite colors are purple, chartreuse, orange, red, and pink."

The best bait for catching pan fish in a farm pond is wax worms. Crappie will go after live minnows. To find the fish, start at the deepest point of the pond where the water is warmer. If the fish aren't biting there, move into more shallow waters. 

There are fish-finding electronics that can locate fish and determine the depth of the water, but a clip-on weight attached to the jig will work too. 

"Find the bottom with that, and then generally I try and fish about a foot off the bottom for most species during ice fishing," he says. "Crappies will tend to suspend in certain situations so you may try different depths. Find the bottom, fish a foot up, and if there's no fish there, and you're trying to catch crappie, maybe move your bait up another 4-5 feet, let it fish there for awhile, and see what happens."

Sometimes the bait can sit right in front of the fish, and they'll still refuse to bite. That's part of fishing any time of year.  

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