Waiting for the freeze: Ice fishing season is coming up fast

17719872 - man ice fishing on a frozen canadian lake.For some, fishing is just more fun when the water is solid. Freeze-up hasn’t yet settled on much of the west, but we’re eagerly waiting for ice fishing to begin. Here’s what you should know before you go!

Play it safe. The age-old warning of “walking on thin ice” is very literal here. Don’t do it! Instead, do your research and call ahead to local bait shops or outfitters before setting out to make sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight. A typical rule of thumb is that 4 inches of hard, non-slushy ice should be enough to support people traveling on-foot. If you have less ice than that, stay off. Surface ice is rarely of uniform thickness, so be sure to test the cover before you with an ice chisel, spud bar or long-bit cordless drill.

Dress for the elements. This is a winter activity, so you need to come prepared for the occasion. Dress warm with a layering strategy, and don’t forget to bundle up your feet and hands. Get yourself a set of cleats that you can wear over your boots for extra traction and strap on a PFD or float suit for safety’s sake.

Gear up. The equipment is a little different this time around. Maybe the most obvious piece of equipment here is an auger to get through the ice. You can go with a hand, electric or gas-powered auger, all of which have their pros and cons. Once you’ve got a hole punched, you’re going to need something to fish with. Your open-water gear probably isn’t going to cut it. Ice fishing rods are much shorter, as you don’t have to cast, and the reduced length helps maneuver around the ice hole. Bring yourself a bucket or chair to sit on and, if you so choose, pack along a shelter to make the experience that much more comfortable.

Fishing is a true four-season sport for those hardy enough to face the cold. If you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro on the ice, the winter has a lot to offer for anglers of all stripes.