So there you sit, atop at least several inches of hard ice that’s covered with snow, staring down into a small dark hole that you’ve just cut through the ice. If you’ve chosen the right spot, and the fishing gods deem you worthy, you just might catch a fish or two. But, if not, the cold temperatures and chilling breeze may usher in thoughts of hot beverages and a warm fire. Such is the rugged activity called ice fishing.
I’ve never been quite clear on how this winter activity that attracts millions around the nation’s colder states got its name. After all, you’re not “fishing for ice,” but rather, for fish. I always thought that a better name would be “sub-freezing fishing,” a title that might make newcomers think twice before trying it. Be that as it may, with all of today’s winter clothing and gear, once people sample it, they often are the ones that get hooked.
Having ice fished since I was a kid, I can readily relate to the why … there’s something almost mystical about being able to walk and fish atop water that, in warmer weather, you’d be either boating on or swimming in. And your window to those darkened waters below is a small temporary self-made porthole that connects two drastically different and alien worlds.
Although many avid anglers prefer to use tip-ups, sit in a pop-up ice shelter or shanty and watch for a flag to go up, signaling a bite, many opt to be “up close and personal” by jigging a single line down through one hole at a time. Both have their advantages. The former is especially appealing when temps and wind chills are uncomfortably cold, and the anglers have some sort of heating device inside their shelter. However, if it’s not overly uncomfortable, the jigging method gives the angler something to keep his or her mind occupied between catchses, which on a slow day might be many minutes or even several hours.