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Hooks and Antlers: Preparations key to ice fishing success


With Northern Zone deer season now over, ice fishing will become the activity of choice for sportsmen and women during the coming months.

Here is an eight-item checklist to help get the season off to a good start.

Jig Poles

The modern ice angler has a wide selection of jigging rods from which to choose, and it is wise to select an outfit to match the targeted species.

For example, a soft-action rod is fine for paper-mouthed crappies or finicky rainbow trout, but a stiffer-action pole works better on heavier fish like walleyes and lake trout. Reels on jigging rods tend to be small and sensitive to winter use so make sure each real is functioning properly prior to the season.

The smaller-diameter spools usually create significant line memory so it’s wise to replace the line at season’s onset. Because on-ice malfunctions do occur, anglers are advised to always have an extra, ready-to-go, jigging rod.


Prior to an outing, especially the first one of the season, anglers should carefully inspect their tip-ups. Ice-fishing trips frequently conclude with a sloppy pick-up due to cold, late-day conditions. Tip-ups hold up well from season to season, but anglers are advised to check the flags and tripping mechanisms to ensure they work properly.

The sturdy line on tip-ups also holds up well from one winter to the next. Still, the line should be inspected, and all leaders and other terminal tackle should be re-tied and even replaced. Just as an angler should have an extra jigging rod in case of malfunction, he should also have an extra, ready-to-go tip-up.


An auger, whether hand-operated or gas-operated, is the angler’s tool for accessing fish-holding water, and sharp blades translate to quicker, quieter, and safer hole making.

Dull blades can be professionally sharpened or even replaced. A tune-up at the local, small-engine shop guarantees a properly working auger.

The new season also calls for a can of fresh gas with the proper oil mixture. If anglers follow only one guideline for augers, that guideline is to ensure the engine is running properly PRIOR to heading to the ice.


Though not mandatory for ice fishing, depth finders do allow for improved presentation of lures or baits. For those who can afford them, modern electronic units are the way to go, but be sure the unit has a good battery.

Electronics are especially effective for active anglers who constantly relocate in search of schools of walleyes or panfish. An inexpensive depth finder is the common lead sounder. Since this device is commonly misplaced, it’s wise to have a couple of spares.

Sun Protection

Open-water anglers commonly apply sunscreen, but because of the cold temperatures of winter, ice anglers rarely use any sun protection. Winter anglers are subject to skin damage on bright days. Sunglasses, too, are a good idea as they protect the eyes from the sun’s glare and resulting eye stress and headache.

Miscellaneous Gear

Ice fishers are somewhat limited in the amount of gear they can tote, but seven handy items are needle-nosed pliers for removing hooks, sharpening stone for touching up hooks and fillet knives, tape measure to verify legal fish length, mouth spreaders for easier unhooking of northern pike and pickerel, dip net for removing minnows from the bait bucket, set of ice creepers for safer movement on bare ice, and a compartmentalized box with extra hooks, weights, jigs, etc. I like to keep items in large, zip-lock bags.

Bait Shop Contact

Important on any ice fisher’s list are the contact numbers of local bait shops. Such shops can provide up-to-date information on ice conditions, fishing quality, bait availability, and fish-catching tactics.

These shops also carry ice-fishing gear, and they will have a supply of lures and baits that work in area waters. Regularly updated websites, too, can provide useful information.

Regulations Guide

Many waters have specific regulations for ice fishing so it’s wise to have a regulations guide on hand.

These guides will include information on numbers and types of lines that are legal, waters that are open and closed for ice fishing, legal species, season dates, daily limits, minimum size length, and more.

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