CHENANGO COUNTY – Winter can be a very long, boring time of the year for many people. Once the holiday season passes, there is not much to do other than look forward to the snow melting and being able to go outside without a heavy coat and gloves. That is, unless you ice fish.
From late December until March is a time where you can fish on a pretty small budget compared to open-water fishing. The gear needed to start ice fishing includes an auger, a scoop, a rod and reel or tip-ups, and something to sit on. These four items, plus some small jigs and bait – to add to the jigs – will allow you to get out on the ice and possibly catch fish. If you go the tip-up path, you’ll need tip-ups, (you’re allowed up to seven per person), plus the appropriate line, leader, hooks, sinkers and some minnows. Either way, you can get started for under a couple hundred dollars, especially if you know someone who already goes and has an auger.
By obtaining a contour map of the body of water where you plan on fishing, one can focus on certain areas that might be holding fish. While the ice is fresh and is not snow covered, submerged aquatic vegetation – 'seaweed' – will continue to use sunlight to photosynthesize and produce oxygen during the day. Aquatic invertebrates that use the vegetation for cover will stay here and attract the fish that are 'pickers'. These fish pick invertebrates off from the vegetation and use it as cover. Bluegill and pumpkinseed are among the small fish known for this kind of activity. So if you know where a good weed bed is located on the lake, you can try fishing it earlier in the ice season.
As the season progresses and snow covers the ice, so the light cannot penetrate as deep, the vegetation will start to die off. This invites bacteria to come in and break down the dead vegetation. Those bacteria use up the oxygen in the water around the vegetation and as a result fish congregate elsewhere. Drop offs are another spot where fish tend to group together. If you see two contour lines that are close together, this indicates a rapid change in depth like a ledge. Try starting on the shallow side of the drop-off early in the morning while predatory fish are hunting in the shallows and slowly work down the drop off to the deeper side. Other things to consider would be points that extend into the lake, underwater islands, or other changes in the bottom. This is about as detailed as you can get when working off from a contour map.
The first purchase outside of the basic set up, will almost always be a sled to haul your gear. This allows you be organized and not to have your hands full while walking around. Another smart purchase is a pair of ice cleats that slip over your boots and give you grip when there isn’t any snow on top of the ice to offer traction.
After fishing this way for a little while, you may start to wonder if you are fishing in the right spots, or even how people are catching fish around you but, you aren’t. This is when the first 'big' purchase of ice fishing will arrive. A flasher, or another form of electronic fish-finder, allows you to 'see' if there are fish under the hole you drilled or not. The flasher also let you see if fish look at your lure but do not bite.
Something as simple as a color change could turn those lookers into biters. The flasher can help you decide when it’s time to quit fishing an area and look for better spot, to hopefully increase your productivity. It will also help determine if you are on the drop off you were looking at on the map or if you are just past it.
The next 'big' purchase also can help you catch fish but in a different way. Having some shelter when you’re sitting on the middle of a giant chunk of ice, exposed to the cold winds and weather drastically increases the amount of time you can spend on the ice...