Ice Fishing: Different Things to Different People


Ice fishing encompasses a wide variety of forms, preferences and tastes—this diversity truly shows through when you look at what people envision when asked to describe an ice angler.

Some will describe a lone, grizzled old-timer hunkered beside a chisel-chipped hole, holding a jiggle stick while intently watching a bobber for movement. Others may portray a colorfully appointed angler standing beside a sleek ice rig, deftly outfitted with GPS and a power auger mounted so a simple 90-degree rotation places it immediately into cutting position or him pulling a portable shelter loaded with sophisticated sonar with underwater cameras, premium tip-ups, etc., on him ready to tackle any situation. And some might depict a simple shack constructed of remnant lumber and scrap particle board, smoke generated by a small wood stove rising above, all tacked together to provide protection as anglers inside listen carefully for rattle reels to reveal strikes while the next person profiles a shiny, fully rigged wheelhouse equipped with a thermostatically controlled, forced air furnace.

Ironically, all of these visions are accurate. Over the years it’s become clear winter-fishing experiences fall under various interpretations and that ice fishing means different things to different people.

So, when asked why they participate so avidly in this cold-weather sport, there are many reasons ardent ice anglers will reflect upon their experiences before answering.

Why do they go through all the effort? You’ll find the answers as varied as the images described above.

To get away
This may be the simplest of reasons, and polling a wide spectrum of ice anglers will perhaps justify why. Everyday stresses are taxing. Ice fishing—like other recreational pastimes—simply presents an effective opportunity to escape the hectic work schedules and mundane daily hassles. At some point, staring at a line leading past the frozen surface down into the world beyond can become the important thing on your mind as you try to convince an unyielding, tentative fish to react so you can successfully set the hook.

Often, such fish have an uncanny ability to make this process demand our full concentration, and in turn, provide much needed diversion.

Social event with family or friends
Ice fishing definitely provides a great way to spend quality time together, and this justifies the reasoning for many. Those expressing this rationale believe on-ice experiences go well beyond the fishing itself. After they’re done setting everything up, the real activity begins. You’ll find folks throwing old blankets in the bottom of their unloaded cargo sleds, and then piling the kids atop. Whether pulled by hand or towed behind a snow machine or ATV, they’re providing rides, grooving well-worn tracks between tip-ups, stopping along the way to check each one—they’ve discovered a means of keeping their family fully engaged while simultaneously boosting productivity by effectively monitoring their lines.

Others will utilize this time to don cross-country skis or ice skates, start a pick-up game of ice football, play fetch with the family dog, manage a grill or sip coffee over casual conversation. All, of which, are activities that are immediately paused at the sight of a flag. For this group, ice fishing becomes an engaging social affair.

Time alone
Surprisingly enough, a select number of anglers will provide replies representing the antithesis of the reason listed above: for them, ice fishing provides some needed personal time. These anglers want freedom and keep it light, bringing only what they personally require. They take to the ice solo, looking to experience some quiet time, alone. They may walk out to an isolated area where they enjoy the solace and silence of a cold winter’s day, sitting in the open on a bucket, leaning upon the seat of their snowmobile or settling down comfortably within a one-man portable while moving at will from location to location at their own pace, on their own time, to locations of their own choosing.

There’s no give and take, no conversation, sharing or compromise here. Just a much needed break. For them, ice fishing brings solitude, a chance to pause, relax, and seriously—no pun intended—chill.

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New experience
Another common retort is from those who have never actually ice fished before, but hear stories, have just become intrigued with the sport and are seeking a unique experience. The chance to walk on water, drill a hole through the frozen roof at your feet to access a hidden aquatic world below, learn and experience the thrill of pulling fish out is what they want.

Accomplished ice fishing veterans also have the chance to seek new experiences, and this is best accomplished by trying something different. Due to budget or time constraints, this may mean staying local, but branching out to try a new spot on a familiar lake, probing some new waters, or perhaps tackling the adventure of seeking unfamiliar species, presentations, lures or techniques, are exactly what they’re looking for. Others might fuel their adventurous appetite by using unique gear, tactics and techniques to expand their knowledge while broadening their horizons and helping quench their insatiable thirst for exploring.

For many ice anglers, facing the challenge of trying to catch a “personal best” or targeting a true trophy becomes the primary driver for these heading out onto the ice. The ability to decipher just the right combination of factors, then using them to uncover a working pattern, locate the right spot and unlock a presentation that will interest and trigger a response, becomes the goal. This is unquestionably a noble mission, and if achieved, it brings a heightened sense of accomplishment.

I’ve even met some hard-cores who insist the best way to test their skills, truly sharpen them, and learn how to become a better ice angler, is by taking on difficult conditions. By fishing lakes where the bite has been slow, concentrating their efforts on heavily pressured waters during severe cold fronts or other situations, make this happen. While this sort of experience certainly isn’t for everyone, it’s hard to argue the fit for those who simply welcome a challenge.

This is another leading category, and one some might argue to be the fastest-growing one of all. One of the most common forms of competition is one ice anglers have enjoyed since the earliest beginnings of this humble sport is a “friendly competition between friends.”

Ice “derbies” or “fisherees,” usually organized by local fishing clubs, sporting goods retailers or service organizations for a good-natured competitive environment, are examples of the friendly gatherings shared among local anglers on popular bodies of water. Most offer prizes for catches in selectively assigned categories, and each year these functions continue to grow.

A vigorous alternative to these local contests is the ice tournament scene. Here, highly skilled rivals face off in keenly competitive matches with opponents clashing in more formal, all-out traditional tournament fashion.

There are widely differing degrees of competition offered between various organizations and circuits, but one thing is certain: entering these events, ice anglers are presented with challenging confrontations testing their individual resources and talents.

Just because
When asked why they expend such effort to trek across frozen waters in severe conditions, I’ve encountered more than a few ice anglers who, remaining nearly expressionless, stare, curl the corners of their mouths slightly and casually shrug their shoulders.

Like mountain climbers when asked why they go through all the effort dedicating so much time, money and resources while assuming extreme risk to scale icy heights, this select group of ice anglers might also unpretentiously respond, “Because they’re there.”

And that’s good enough for me.