With our lakes and ponds beginning to freeze up if they aren’t already, it is a great time to review our safety precautions and equipment before we venture out onto that first ice.
Clam float suit? Check. Boot cleats and neck spikes? Double check. Spud bar? Of course. Life jacket? Check. A change of clothes should you fall through? Yep. Keep a set in your vehicle all season, even when the ice is well over a foot thick because you just never know if or when you might need a dry set! Watched an ice exit video? Always.
Something that I always do before heading out on my first ice trip of the season is watch YouTube videos on knowing how to get out of the water in a quick and calm way should I fall through. This is something that every ice angler should do before venturing out onto first ice. A little review could go a long way towards keeping you alive if the worst should happen.
It’s standard these days that most state outdoor departments recommend that the ice should be at least four inches thick before venturing out onto it. And there are many among us who probably even wait for it to be thicker before considering going out onto it. But there are those of us, including myself, who venture out on hardwater well below this minimum recommendation.
The lure of that first iced fish, that first powered on Vexilar, or that first drilled hole can be extremely enticing. We do take our well-being into our own hands when we do this, so it is important to take every, and I mean every, precaution before that first step onto the ice.
Why do we tempt fate on thinner ice when any normal person would probably wait it out? Because first ice can be one of the absolute best times to catch fish, as they gorge themselves on what remains of their food sources before the deep winter ice sets in and the lack of sunlight kills off most of the plant life that provides sanctuary for their food.
The fish are fattening up and will go after lures aggressively as if it could be their last meal. This is one of the best times of the year to use large rattling baits, flashy spoons, or other large profile lures, as fish like walleye, pike, and bass are looking for larger meals to fatten up on.
This same mentality holds true for smaller species such as bluegills, trout, or perch. Panfish spoons and jigs with larger insect plastics on them can weed out the smaller fish and attract the larger ones in a school who are eager to bulk up on larger presentations.
Green weeds are always a good place to start at as well as shallower water. Clearer ice can be beneficial for seeing weeds without drilling, but you must also not move around much as any movement can be seen easily by upward looking fish.
Have you ever been on ice so clear you can see ten feet under it to the weeds on the bottom? Several small lakes and ponds around the Black Hills provide such an opportunity at first ice. The hard part can be deciding what to bring out and how light to pack so as not add a lot of weight or use things that make more noise.
Speaking of noise—make sure when on thin ice that you’re packing very light. One or two rods, minimal tackle, your Vexilar, and, of course, your electric drill fitted with a K-Drill auger on it. I run a Clam Conversion kit mounted to an 8” K-Drill blade and it is the ultimate in ultralight and quiet ice hole drilling.
The K-Drill has become very popular over the last few years and if you’ve used one, you know why. With the explosion of lighter electric augers, having a K-Drill on the business end of your drill powered auger gives you a lot of drilling power for under fifteen pounds!
As we prepare to take our first steps onto the hardwater this season, remember that safety needs to be priority, number one, regardless of how good you think the ice may be. Travel light but spare no expense on your safety. The early ice bite is one of the best times of the year to find and catch big fish, as they prepare for the leaner winter months to come. Take advantage of it while you can. Just be smart about it. Here’s to a safe and very successful ice fishing season!