THE GREAT OUTDOORS — With the cold weather that has been holding on for a few weeks now, some lakes and reservoirs are beginning to cap over with ice or are nearing that stage. Preparation now will allow you to get out immediately once the ice is safe for fishing.
While you may be itching to get out on the ice now, it is crucial that you wait until officials report that it is safe and make sure you know what safe ice conditions look like.
“Ice has started forming on high elevation waters in Utah, but in most cases, the ice is still unsafe," Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Hadley said. "We’ve received reports of anglers catching fish through the ice at some of these waters.”
Here are some tips for getting your gear ready as soon as possible in preparation of a great ice fishing season.
Rods and reels
Rods and reels require some readiness ahead of time and will make fishing a lot more enjoyable. For rods, new wire or spring bobbers will give you a less mushy look at the tender bites that come below the ice — bent strike detectors are difficult to read. Many short ice rods require some taping to the cork handle for tightness and security. Try electrical tape to affix the reel to your rod handle. This tape will survive the cold weather well and makes for a firm grip to the rod.
Spooling up with a fresh line is a good idea, too, as the cold weather will affect the pliability and strength of the line over time. If you choose lightweight lines, which many anglers do for the generally clear water below the ice, use a line that won’t be too likely to scrape and be cut by the ice hole itself when you are fighting a fish.
Berkley Trilene makes an XT (extra tough) line that can more readily handle abrasion. Fluorocarbon can be a little stiffer than monofilament fishing line and may tend to unwind itself from the reel when in use.
Braided line is quite popular with many anglers as well, especially with larger fish, when used with a mono or fluorocarbon leader. But be sure to secure your braid to the reel with electrical tape or a drop of super glue to keep the smooth braid from spinning around on the spool itself. If you’ve ever had this happen, you know how that can ruin your day. You won’t be able to reel in a good fish because the line spins on the spool when you go to reel in.
Colored mono lines are a good choice on ice, as clear lines are difficult to see against the stark white of the ice and snow. Use a clear leader below a Kastmaster spoon or other flasher/attractor for a more invisible line connection.
Have you ever noticed how tight and difficult your reels can be when you try to reel in the line while on the ice? Grease in the gears will often thicken up in the cold. Try using a spray lubricant, such as WD-40, instead. This makes for a smoother, easier retrieve in the cold, winter months.
Lures and leaders
Small lures are the ticket for many under-ice fish species, and making sure your hooks are sharp is an added advantage. Use a metal nail file as you fish in order to keep your hook sharp and ready to penetrate a fish’s mouth.
Pre-tying leaders onto lures will also speed up your lure changing preferences when on the ice. Cold fingers have a hard time tying a good knot when out on a brisk, windy day.
Another tip is that as you increase lure size for bigger fish, keep a variety of colors available, just like you do for your small offerings. Color can make an amazing difference on days when your query is finicky. As always, tipping with a wax worm, meal worm or other bait will sweeten your lure and make it a little more palatable to fish.
If you fish with a MarCum, Vexilar, Humminbird, Garmin, or another fish finder, be sure your batteries are good and ready for a full day of fishing. Underwater cameras, such as Aqua-Vu, will give you trustworthy performance. Test your batteries, if possible, to guarantee they will last in cold weather. While electronics are not a necessity, they are a popular tool for many ice anglers.
Otherwise, fish in relation to the bottom of the reservoir as a beginning marker. Reel up a short distance and jig your lure to attract fish. Continue moving and jigging with a nice lift and fall of your bait until you find fish that are attracted to your efforts. Remember, your “casts” are vertical with ice fishing, and covering the entire water column is essential.
Shelters and heat
Unless you just love to sit out in the elements to fish, a nice shelter from the wind and sun can make a huge difference in how long you’re willing to be out on the ice. On a sunny day, you rarely need additional heat, unless the temperatures are extremely low.
A small, propane Mr. Heater, or similar device, can keep you warm and comfortable all day when inside a shelter. If you don’t have an ice tent, you may want to consider investing in one for the ice fishing season. The larger shelters can easily hold 4 plus anglers. They may make you an avid ice angler quicker than anything else, including your potential purchase of electronic gear.
Hadley said that anglers can stay updated on ice conditions and fishing success with the reports on the DWR website.
Don’t wait until you hear that ice is on your favorite pond to start digging up equipment. Prepare now, and ready yourself so that you’re available with little notice when the fish begin biting. Get ready to enjoy another great season on the frozen surface of one of many good Utah lakes and reservoirs.