Winter has shown up with force in the past few weeks, with overnight temperatures plunging into the negative double-digits in some places. If there is any sort of silver lining to this arctic slam, the first bit of ice to form on the ponds and lakes should have been black, solid ice with little to no snow trapped in it. This means that the ice is stronger and should hold up better if we have any warm spells that could start to melt things.
On the current 10-day forecast as of writing this article, the warmest overnight temperature is 18 degrees (February 1) and today is the only daytime high above freezing. So the ice if only going to continue to build.
However, that means if you want to go out and try catching some fish through the ice, you are going to need to be prepared to face the elements. The best way to fish in extreme cold, in my opinion, is to use a portable shelter. There are a few types of portable shelters on the market, but they all accomplish the same general goal of basic protection from the elements. Just the simple act of blocking the wind negates most of the windchill factor, which can be a significant amount when the ambient temperature is in the single digits.
Add the ability to bring a stove or heater to raise the temperature inside the shelter and you can be fishing comfortably without being bundled up to the point of not being able to move. Many shelter manufacturers are offering shelters that have a quilted material for their walls, with he quilting allowing the material to be more insulating. The added insulation helps keep the inside of the shelter from losing heat to the outside of the shelter. The quilting does add weight to the shelter so there is a trade-off there.
Portable shelters are often broken into two categories; towable and pop-up. A towable shelter is just that, able to be towed by a vehicle or machine out onto the ice. The best way I have found to describe a towable is that it is a sled with a shelter built onto it. You can get a towable in a 1- or 2-person configuration. A towable generally has a seat built in. It takes seconds to slide the shelter portion up. Towable shelters are heavier than pop-up shelters so they can be difficult to pull in deep snow.
Pop-up shelters most often come as hub-style shelters just like pop-up hunting blinds. They can be carried in a backpack-style bag until you get to where you want to set it up. Putting the shelter up only takes a few minutes but should be staked down when the wind is moderate to keep the shelter from blowing around. The lighter weight of pop-up shelters makes them advantageous when you have a long walk or deep snow that is hard to walk in. Pop-up shelters can come in a wider range of sizes than towable shelters, allowing for a larger group of people to share one shelter. You do have to carry a seat separately when using a pop-up, while some carry bags have straps so you can strap your chair to the bag to make it easier.
Regardless of what type of shelter you use, it is still important to dress in layers and to avoid cotton clothing. Wear moisture-wicking fabrics as your base layers such as polyester, that way of you get overheated on your walk out onto the ice, your sweat will be carried away from your skin, allowing your body temperature to be regulated better. Something small that can help is to carry a piece of foam big enough to put your feet on. By putting something between the ice and your feet, you can keep them from getting cold as fast.
As always when going on the ice, carry safety spikes in a place that you will be able to get them in the event that you fall through the ice. Keeping them in a bucket in your sled will do you no good if you need them.