Ice fishing culture is far different than open-water fishing. In warmer months, anglers are generally more competitive and eager to spend less time socializing and more time fishing. Come winter, however, ice fishing creates a natural camaraderie among everyone on the ice. It’s an authentic bonding experience with many other outdoorsmen and women.
Ice fishing is great because it creates a natural community, challenges anglers of all skill levels, and offers people a chance to still enjoy the outdoors, even in the dead of winter. There isn’t a one size fits all strategy for ice fishing, and it’s not as intimidating as open-water fishing.
While many ice anglers have different reasons why they love ice fishing, there are a few general ideas that most hard water anglers agree upon.
Reasons Why Ice Fishing Is Great
1. Learn Tendencies of Fish
As open-water fishing technology is becoming increasingly more advanced, ice fishing technology is developing right along with it.
Fish finders and sonar are a common sight on most modern fishing boats, but few have high-definition underwater cameras that can show precisely when fish are going to strike and how they’re currently behaving.
In winter, it’s common knowledge that fish slow down. They don’t eat or move as much as they do during the warmer months. They want to find the warmest water possible and stay there.
They’ll venture out a bit to find food, but they don’t want to put in much work to get it. If you have a high-quality fish finder or an underwater camera, you can get a great look at how fish behave.
Drop your bait and look to see how fish respond to it. What you learn will likely surprise you. You may find that fish spend quite a bit of time around your bait without choosing to strike it.
You may also see that if a part of your hook is exposed, the fish will be far more hesitant to bite it. Many anglers also learn that if a fish is hungry, there are few things they won’t do to eat your bait.
Underwater cameras and other technologies can also inform you how fish behave during different times of the day. You’ll likely find that fish feed differently in the morning than they do during the night.
You may also gain a glimpse into how fish behave during the middle of the day, which can traditionally be the most challenging time to fish.
All of the tendencies you learn can be helpful when the ice thaws and you return to open-water fishing.
Fish won’t behave the same way as they do during the winter, but you’ll have a greater understanding of what will work and what doesn’t.
Take advantage of the opportunity to sit in one place and study fish. This knowledge will give you an edge when fishing during a slow spell.
2. Create Relationships
In the warmer months, many of the large group fishing gatherings happen on the docks or at the boat ramps after a long day on the water.
At this point, anglers are ready to head home and aren’t as eager to stay and chat.
When ice fishing season comes around, however, one of the main reasons people go is so they can enjoy one another’s company while they’re fishing.
As many ice anglers know, most lakes and rivers have certain “hot spots.”
As a result, anglers will congregate in a particular area with their shelters within 10 yards of one another, hoping to take advantage of the bite.
Staying near other anglers is far more accepted in the winter than it would be on open water. Anglers are more willing to share information and embrace the community aspect when ice fishing.
There’s something that bonds people when they have to haul their shelter and all of their gear onto the ice, set it up and begin fishing.
It’s a style of fishing that requires teamwork. As a result, landing fish is more of a victory for the group than it is for the individual. Plus, ice fishing naturally creates a comfortable environment.
The warm shelter, food, drinks, and close proximity with your fellow anglers allow people to converse and enjoy each other’s company without feeling like they have to move to a new spot or feel like they’re losing precious fishing time.
Few fishing adventures are more enjoyable than getting a big group of people together and hitting the ice.
Setting up houses close to one another, cooking big meals, and racing to tip-ups is about as fun as it gets.
When everyone is working together for the greater good, the natural competitiveness that arises is an absolute blast.
No other fishing experience is like this. The pressure is off, and good times can be had by even the most diehard and serious angler.
3. You Can Cover Different Water in Winter than Summer
Depending on where you live, you’ll find that many smaller lakes and bodies of water don’t have boat ramps that allow anglers to access the water.
Those access rules leave anglers to either fish the water via the shore or on a small non-motorized watercraft. In the winter, the lack of a boat ramp doesn’t mean anything.
You’re able to get on the water and fish it in a way that you never would during the warmer months.
Many ice anglers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan have become frustrated with the lack of boat access on many lakes across their states.
These lakes generally have high fish populations, but they aren’t always easy to fish when they aren’t frozen. Ice anglers can take their time on these lakes when the ice comes.
They can cover all of the areas they would like and learn more about them throughout the winter.
Taking your time can give you a better idea of certain hotspots and quality areas that you can return to on a non-motorized watercraft in the summer.
Plus, you can take advantage of a fish population that likely hasn’t been pressured as heavily as a lake that allows for motorized watercraft.
Yes, the fish will still have winter tendencies, but they probably won’t be as familiar with artificial lures and baits. Not enough anglers take advantage of exploring new water in the winter.
Visit the bodies of water you would like to fish in the summer and spend more time exploring and learning about them.
You can use underwater cameras and sonar imaging to study the bottom and general conditions. Using technology will give you a running start for the warm water season.
You won’t hit the water in the summer and have to spend a few days learning all about it. You can mark your spots and specific areas you would like to return to as soon as the ice melts and the water opens up.
4. It’s A Great Challenge
Many open-water anglers have experienced days where they seem to catch a fish everywhere they cast. It doesn’t matter what direction they turn; there appears to be a fish at the end of their line.
Finding an extremely hot bite isn’t easy to accomplish when ice fishing. Ice anglers are limited to fishing one or two 8-inch sections of water at a time.
It would take a massive amount of time to cover an entire lake with one or two lines in the water at a time. As a result, hard water fishermen and women have to be more strategic in the areas they fish.
If you appreciate a challenge in some cold weather, then ice fishing is the perfect activity for you.
While fishing almost always proves to be a challenge, there’s also the challenge of gathering gear, heading out into the cold, and preparing yourself to fish.
Setting up the shelter, drilling holes, getting warm, and tearing down all of the equipment in the same day isn’t easy.
Every single fish you land through the ice will mean that much more because you know how much work went into setting up your entire operation.
Not every person is willing to put themselves through this amount of work, so you can rest easy that you’re one of the tougher people who still desire to be outside even though the weather may not be as forgiving as it would be during the spring, summer, and fall.
Those challenges of forgetting a rod, losing power in your auger, or running out of propane in your heater can be extremely frustrating because of the amount of work it takes to solve those issues.
Ice fishing is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a fantastic accomplishment every time you’re able to set up, land fish, tear down and make it home all in one piece.
5. Not As Busy
Areas of the world that give anglers a chance to go ice fishing are more than likely filled with passionate outdoorsmen and women.
As a result, lakes, and rivers are busy in the summer. Boat ramps are active, and those quality fishing waters can be hard to have for yourself.
In the winter, the number of anglers on a lake drops drastically compared to the number of anglers found on a lake in the summer.
Yes, some certain lakes and areas are busy, but the pressure is limited compared to what is seen throughout the warm months.
The cold and challenge of ice fishing weeds out many of the casual anglers that fish a few times a month and take up some precious water.
In the winter, most anglers are more of the passionate type, and they understand the unwritten rules of fishing.
Fishing becomes a smoother process and allows for some more of that solitude that so many anglers desire when they’re out on the water.
It’s not uncommon for ice anglers to only experience a dozen or so people each time they’re fishing compared to the several dozen anglers and recreators that fill most lakes during the summer.
Frozen lakes aren’t a popular place for non-anglers to visit in the winter. There is the occasional snowmobiler or ice skater, but most lakes are used to ice fish.
In the summer, however, fishing lakes may be covered with canoes, kayaks, water skiers, tubers, and casual boaters.
You don’t have to worry about that extra traffic that may spook fish or interfere with your fishing. Take advantage of the less busy time of year. The quiet that can be had while you’re out on the ice is special.
There doesn’t have to be any noise besides you, the wind, the hiss of your heater, and the occasional splash of a fish coming through the hole.
6. Fish Taste Better Through the Ice
Any angler who happens to eat their catch will more than likely agree that fish taste better when caught through the ice instead of through open water.
Fish tasting better in the winter may sound like people’s opinions, but there is scientific evidence that backs up the idea that fish do taste better when caught through the ice.
Warmer temperatures cause more aquatic vegetation to grow, which in turn creates a less-than-pure experience for the fish.
For example, algae is something that often fills the water in the summer. In the winter, algae isn’t able to grow due to the cold temperatures and lack of sunlight that can reach the water.
Algae can cause fish to taste far “gamier” and not as clean. That muddy and “fishy” taste isn’t as prevalent in the winter, so it’s a better time to eat your catch.
Plus, many ice anglers fish for panfish, so they can pack their freezers with meat that will last them through the times of the year when fish aren’t as good to eat.
Fish like sunfish, crappie, and perch are some of the easiest fish to catch through the ice, and the limits on these fish are fairly high, so you can easily fill a freezer with a few productive weeks out on the ice.
Another favorite for many ice anglers is walleye. Walleye can be challenging to catch in the summer for a variety of reasons, but they almost become easier to land in the winter.
You can have some fantastic days on the ice if you can target them during early ice while they’re still feeding and hoping to fatten up before the true cold hits.
During early ice, the smaller minnows and panfish that walleye normally feed on have been eating less algae, which can cause the walleye to have more of that pure taste that so many ice anglers want.
7. Enjoy The Outdoors
Finding ways to be outside in the dead of winter is challenging. Activities like skiing, snowmobiling, and ice skating can lose their luster if you aren’t obsessed with them.
Plus, they can become predictable.
Ice fishing requires the initial investment of all the gear, and you have hours and hours of fun at your fingertips. Plus, you never know what you’re going to get on a daily basis.
You may stumble into different bites or hot spots. The unknown is exceptionally appealing. You can get outside but still stay comfortable due to your shelter and heater.
There’s nothing worse than feeling cooped up all winter long with no way to escape. Ice fishing is a great way to get yourself outside.
While ice fishing isn’t always a comfortable process, it’s an absolute blast.
The ability to get out of the house and still participate in fishing even though it’s below freezing is something that many diehard anglers don’t take for granted.
It’s essential to embrace all of the challenges that come with ice fishing because it will make the experience that much greater.
Get yourself some of the necessary gear and see what you can find. A simple drive by some nearby lakes and other bodies of water will tell you if it’s a good place to fish.
You’ll see the lake dotted with ice shelters. Ice fishing is an addicting activity that every angler should experience.