Ice Fisherman Catches A Fish With… Wings?

Nothing beats a still winter’s day for fishing, as all ice fishers will tell you, but even those calm days can serve up a surprise. Just ask these ice fishers in Pennsylvania who managed to rescue a duck trapped in icy waters. The fishermen had been waiting for a catch around a typical opening in the ice when they had to respond to a tug on their line. But instead of pulling up what might have made a nice fish dinner, they found a poor duck struggling with the line. They set the fowl free, but not before sharing a chuckle over the somewhat different catch.

While the duck wanted to get back in the water (and it did once it was free), the fishermen can rest easy knowing that they were able to help out an animal that may have been trapped. It’s not everyday that you can claim to have rescued a live duck from under thick ice with baits and lines made for fish, but as these fishermen might tell you, that can be part of the fun of ice fishing. There’s no guarantee you’ll ever pull a feathered friend from under the ice, but if you’d like to see what ice fishing is about, you need the right equipment and a knowledge of how to stay safe on the slippery surface.

Get the Right Tools — Start at a good fishing shop such as a Bass Pro Shop, where you can get professional advice on both tools and tips for making the adventure easier to handle. When done properly, ice fishing is safe, comfortable, and fun, but it does require special tools that you wouldn’t use in regular lake or river fishing.

  • Transportation: You really shouldn’t drive out onto the ice, even when it’s thick, but that means you’ll need an additional way to get your equipment out to the fishing spot. A good-quality toboggan or sled that can glide smoothly over the ice — and that has a rope or other means of pulling that is strong enough to haul the weight of the tools without breaking — will accomplish this handily.
  • Drilling and Ice Management: Now you have to get through the ice, and simply trying to chip a hole down to the water level isn’t going to work. You’ll need both an ice auger and an ice chisel. The auger lets you drill through the ice carefully and will be your main tool for opening a fishing hole. When the ice is thinner, earlier in the season, a chisel may work instead. As you drill or chisel, you’ll also need a skimmer, which you use to scoop and scrape out the loose ice left by the auger or chisel. Note that the hole should not be any larger than 12 inches in diameter because larger holes are unsafe.
  • Where to Sit and Where to Store Your Catch: Ice fishing takes patience and is not something you stand around waiting for. You’ll need a seat that is sturdy. Some people make do with little stools or even an upturned bucket, while others go all out and get ice fishing shelters that look like little cabins. Anything you catch can be placed in a simple bucket. As for your bait, you’ll need to stay dry yourself, so if you’re using baits that need to stay wet, like minnows, you’ll need a small net to grab those. One more tool that may be of use is a hook disgorger. This oddly named tool helps you retrieve a hook from a slippery fish that you might be having trouble holding onto, which can be the case in cold, icy weather. Past that, your regular fishing rod and hooks, and any other tools you use for regular fishing, are the only other things you need.
  • What to Wear: You need warm clothing and sturdy, stable boots, gloves, and possibly facial protection from wind. Sunglasses help if it’s sunny out to cut down on glare and UV rays. And don’t forget sun protection. Even on cloudy days those UV rays can work on your skin. Also make sure your cell phone is completely charged before you begin fishing for the day, and tell someone where you’re going.

Safety Rules — Always start out near the shore of the frozen body of water even if official conditions state the ice is safe to be on. Drill a small hole near the shore to see if you have at least four inches of ice that’s clear, similar to what you’d see in ice cubes in a freezer. This indicates the ice is newer and stronger. Older ice can be weaker and thus not as safe even if thick; you’d need to find at least eight inches of thick white ice. Anything less than two inches thick (for clear ice) is not safe, and you’ll need to find another body of water on which to ice fish.

You’ll also need a life jacket. While the hole you drill shouldn’t be more than a foot across, you can still slip into that. The jacket will also add warmth, though it should not be your only jacket, of course.

Location, Location — Technology can help here to an extent; fish finders can help you locate larger stocks if you’re not familiar with the area. But if you’re ice fishing in an area you normally visit in summer, start in the areas where fish normally congregate during that warmer weather. Also, if nothing seems to be biting and you’re sure there are fish in the area, try changing the depth of your line and bait. Fish tend not to travel up and down, instead staying at the same depth as they travel.

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