Tight Lines: A reassessment of ice fishing

Those who know me well know that hovering over a frozen hole has never really been my favorite pastime. Frankly, I need something a little more proactive. It’s why I fly fish throughout the summer and fall. I like the act of walking a stream, seeking out where fish are holding, puzzling over what they might be feeding on, and at least working on making a good cast.

 

Nevertheless, I still go out and test the waters, the frozen waters, a few times each winter. And it’s not like I go along begrudgingly, but it certainly is not for the fishing. No, it’s as much for the camaraderie, the promise of good conversation and often a feast of hearty winter grub and strong drink. In fact, the last time my old friend Jim Quinn invited me, he was good enough to bring along some very nice 12-year-old scotch.

All of these factors combine to make heading out on the ice for an afternoon at least bearable, and are why in years past I have made time for an ice fishing excursion or two.

This winter, however, things have been a little different. I’m not sure of the reason — maybe our feeble winters, the lack of even tolerable skiing conditions, or my need to simply get out and stave off that dreaded scourge of the north, cabin fever — but whatever it is, lately I’ve been reconsidering my view of ice fishing. I’ve been stringing new line on the reels, sharpening the auger, and actually looking forward to going and having a very good time when I do go.

I’ve always known that part of having fun ice fishing is simply being prepared. It’s imperative to have the right clothing, layers if hiking in and the warmest outerwear and boots when actually fishing. Of course, a very convivial atmosphere — a party on the ice, with everyone in high spirits — is really what makes for a good time. And that’s something that can also be applied on an individual basis as well.

Come to think of it, that may be the biggest factor in my newfound desire to ice fish: a simple change in attitude, making the most not only of a bad winter, but any winter at all. Now I guess it’s time to head out on the ice!

For those new to this type of angling, it’s best to tag along with someone who regularly ice fishes. They will have some good ideas about where to go and will have the requisite equipment, namely an ice auger. A hand auger is more work, but is lighter to carry, fits nicely on a sled or pulk, and costs only about $50. A power auger, on the other hand, will make life much easier, especially on thick ice, but will run in the neighborhood of $300 or more.

Ice fishing rods are relatively inexpensive, starting at about $40. Most ice fishers use a variety of jigs or bait such as salmon eggs, shrimp or herring. The only other piece of equipment that is absolutely necessary is a scoop, to keep your hole clear of ice.

That is really all that’s needed to get started. Of course, as ice anglers get more into the sport, there is always room for expansion. Most have some sort of sled to haul their gear. Many carry an insulated bucket that they both stash gear in and use as a cushioned seat when there isn’t room to bring along a folding chair.

There are also a wide variety of ice shelters — tents, really — that are designed to be set up in only a matter of minutes. Equipped with a propane heater they are cozy fishing spots on windy and excessively chilly days. There are even cameras that can be lowered for a peek beneath the ice.

Whether with just the basics or all the accoutrements, whether with just a few friends or a big party, ice fishing is a great excuse to get outside during our long winter months. And having each member of the party bring a dish or beverage to pass and holding a potluck out on the ice is a great way for family and friends to gather and enjoy the outdoors. And there is even the possibility of an added bonus: that always wonderful and welcome taste of fresh fish in the middle of winter.

Dave Atcheson is the author of the guidebook “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula,” and National Geographic’s “Hidden Alaska, Bristol Bay and Beyond.” His latest book, “Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas” is now available in hardcover, online, and as an audiobook. For more information: www.daveatcheson.com.

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Tight Lines publishes on the third Thursday of the month from September through April. It will return as a weekly feature in May. Have a photo, fish tale or favorite recipe to share? Email tightlines@peninsulaclarion.com.

— Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing’s Annual Ice Fishing Derby: Ice fishing derby runs through the end of the month, with many prizes awarded throughout. Call 907-262-4655 or visit www.soldotnahardware.com.

— Beginning Fly Fishing Class: Kenai Peninsula College offers a one-credit, six-week-long Beginning Fly Fishing Class, starting March 22. Seats are limited and registration is now open. For more information: www.kpc.alaska.edu, or call: 907-262-0346

— Kenai Peninsula Chapter of Trout Unlimited General Meeting: March 15, 6:30 p.m., at Odie’s Deli, in Soldotna. Need not be a member; anyone interested in fishing is welcome.

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