Survival Update

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Ice Fishing For Beginners

Winter means hibernation and cancellation of most outdoor activities, unless you live in or plan to visit the Great Lakes region of the United States. Up there, they don’t care if the mercury is huddled at the bottom of the thermometer trying to escape and go to Hawaii – they plan festivals and week-long parties based on the thickening ice. And on non-festival days, you can find plenty of hardy fishermen (and women and kids) ice fishing to pass the time, connect with nature, and tell lies. 

If you’re interested in giving ice fishing a try, here’s a little information about what you’re in for. 

  • Hire a fishing guide. First and foremost – hire an expert. You can also rent an ice shack for a low-cost, low-commitment venture into the world of ice fishing. Check with local bait shops in the area you plan to visit to make arrangements for an expert fisherman to show you the ropes – er, I mean lines. 
  • New ice is stronger than old ice. According to, four inches of clear, newly formed ice can support a person walking on foot. But old, partially thawed ice that may be over one foot thick is more likely to break under the weight of one person. Two inches of ice is not safe to walk on for anyone, whether it’s new or old. 
  • Leave the booze on shore. Alcohol impedes your judgment, and ice fishing is no place to make mistakes that may cost you or your companions their lives if you screw up. Also, despite that warm fuzzy feeling, alcohol actually lowers your internal body temperature. 
  • Wear a flotation device ONLY when traveling across the ice by foot or snowmobile. Never wear a life vest inside an enclosed vehicle while traveling across a frozen lake or pond. 
  • Buy a fishing license and check local regulations. Learn what species and how many of each are legal to take from the waterway you’re fishing.
  • Experiment to see what technique will catch fish. As with any type of fishing, play around to see what makes the fish bite. Live bait usually catches more fish, but artificial bait is a reliable staple of any tackle box. Once your bait is in the water, your main technique is to experiment with jigging the line at various depths until you find the level the fish are biting. You pretty much just drop your line down a hole in the ice, so casting is a moot point.

Bring the family for a full day of fun. Even if your spouse and kids aren’t into ice fishing, there’s plenty of winter fun to be had during a day on the ice. The kids can skate, sled, build snowmen, or have a snowball fight. A day in nature is never a day wasted, so pack up the family and head to the nearest frozen waterway with ice at least four inches thick for adventure and memories to last well into the warm seasons.