Sport fishing, as a whole, has been slowing as an industry, but one sector has been growing in popularity, and that is ice.
Every year it seems like more people are showing an interest in this affordable way of fishing. Some anglers have mentioned that they had never fished in their lives until being introduced to the icy side of the sport.
My recommendation for anyone wanting to start in the sport is to go after the panfish end of things. This will give the angler action, and save money on tackle and equipment, while letting them see how well they like it.
Starting on the ice is not expensive. The basics are a rod/reel combination, drill, bucket with a seat, and jigs and bait. To this I would suggest adding a portable shelter, especially after the first few times, if the decision has been made to stay in the sport, as this is a little larger investment.
Here is a list of what a person may want to purchase at the beginning for panfish (bluegill and crappie), but there is always a chance of catching a bass, yellow ring perch, walleye, catfish, or in the case of Lake of the Hills at West Lake Park, a trout:
• One spinning or straight-line combination, with a 24-inch light action rod (mine are Frabill). If budget allows I would purchase two combinations. The reels are ultra light on spinning, which can also be used during open water times of the year, and a fly type design for straight-line.
• A drill is essential, and a hand model may be preferred at the beginning, mainly because of cost. If budget allows, and you know you are going to stick it, a power drill may want to be considered, such as the Jiffy propane models, and K-Drill, powered by a Milwaukee Fuel 18-volt power drill.
• Frabill has a combination of bucket and seat called a Sit-N-Fish, which also has an area for bait and tackle. Frabill and Plano have seats that fit on standard 5 and 10 gallon buckets, with the Plano version having like a miniature tackle box.
• For jigs I would go with an assortment from Custom Jigs & Spins, which is one of the most popular and productive products in ice fishing. The assortments I use are the glow colors in the Ratso, Rat Finkee, Diamond Jig, Gill Pill and Demon models, in sizes of 12 through 8.
• Wax worms are a good all around bait, but make sure to have some jars of Berkley Power Crappie Nibbles as well. While there are other Power Baits to consider, I’ve had my best overall results with the Nibbles. Power Bait colors to consider are white, chartreuse, rainbow and pink.
• A Frabill one-man portable shelter is an excellent choice for any ice angler, no matter what level of experience. It is an affordable, and easy shelter to use. For a few more dollars you can step up to a 2- to 3-man shelter, which will give room for a buddy, as well as extra equipment.
• Another sizable investment is a flasher unit. The Vexilar FLX-28 unit that I use is invaluable for locating, and staying on fish. Once you learn how to read one, which is not all that difficult, you can practically know what the fish are going to do after finding them.
Safety is very important, so be sure to have the proper warm clothing, including a good pair of gloves. Frostbite and hypothermia can be a serious problem for ice anglers.
Another product for safety is a set of ice picks that are worn around the neck on a cord. The ones I use come in a Frabill Safety Kit, which contains other items, such as grippers that fit on the bottom of boots to help keep from falling on the slick surface. Hopefully a person will never have to use the picks, but if they fall through the ice it is the easiest way, other than having a rope thrown out by another person, to pull out of the hole.
As with everything, remember, safety first. Make sure the ice thickness is good (at least 3 to 4 inches). If possible, go with a buddy, or where there is a group of anglers close by. Even experienced anglers can find themselves in some tricky situations if they let their guard down.
Since Christmas is close at hand, some of these items may be good gift ideas for the angler on your list that wants to start on the ice.