Ice Fishing. Seriously, what’s the point?
by PJ DelHomme
Why do a few die-hard ice fishermen spend the better part of winter over a few holes on the ice. We asked a few of them “why is ice fishing fun?” For one, nothing beats catching walleye from a couch.
It’s winter, and in half the country, it’s just plain cold. Football season is over. You need to get outside. You need to go ice fishing. The days of sitting on a five-gallon bucket with the wind sucking the soul from your body are over. So are the days of guessing where all those perch and walleye are. Comfort on the ice and technology under it have come a long way. Just ask Dave Morin, executive board member of International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 9 out of Minnesota. (What ice fishing gear do I need? See our list at the bottom)
After growing up ice fishing with a stick, a bobber and a hole in the ice (reels were too expensive), Morin still has a passion for ice fishing. Now, though, he’s taken it up a notch. The other weekend, he smoked prime rib in his fish house, which comes complete with bunks and a futon. Of course, he has a good fish finder, the Marcum LX7. And then there’s the Marcum underwater camera, which they watch on the flat screen that hangs above the bar—in the fish house.
“It’s pretty deluxe,” says Morin. “It’s easy to be comfortable.” The house stays in the 70s when it’s below zero on the lake. Why all the luxury? For one, why not? And two, Morin’s goal is to help people enjoy the experience. If that means catching walleye from a couch while watching the Vikings play, so be it.
Plus, his kids have a blast on the ice, which explains why he organized the USA’s first youth ice fishing event a few years ago. For the first event, it was -11 and 75 kids still showed up. At this year’s annual Take Kids Ice Fishing event on March 5 in Rush City, Minnesota, they’ll likely have 130 kids attend. The only limiting factor is the number of fish houses.
Fishing Goes High-tech
Right after USA Events Coordinator Eric Bakken signed the papers to join the U.S. Army, his dad took him and his buddies ice fishing in their home state of Minnesota. Bakken spent a decade in the Army and got deployed to Afghanistan three times. That ice fishing trip was a memory that stuck with him. They stayed in an ice house on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. “That was the last time I went ice fishing in Minnesota, and honestly, it was the last thing I did with a lot of my friends.”
The Army sent him all over the world, and eventually he landed in western Washington where decent ice fishing is a four-hour drive. Instead, he makes an even longer drive to Cascade Lake in Idaho to fish for two-pound perch (yes, two) with his Army buddies. “I like ice fishing for the social aspect,” he says. “We go fishing with six other guys, and we’ll all be 20 yards away from each other so we can BS.”
These days, Bakken says folks who want to get into ice fishing have plenty of high-tech options to help them find the fish. Phone apps like Basemap and Fishbrain show you lake contours and depth. “And if you really want to be successful, I wouldn’t go ice fishing without a fish finder,” he says. “It’s really hard without one.”
He uses a Hummingbird fish finder, which costs a few hundred dollars. If you’ve got money to burn, Garmin makes a LiveScope option that Bakken says allows you to see at least 120 feet in every direction. “Basically, you can see fish coming in from the side, and you know when it’s game on.” Those units, though, are going to set you back a mortgage payment (or two). There’s always the free fish finder, too. Just go fish where the fish huts are, pop in a couple holes a reasonable distance away and fish about a foot off the bottom. If you happen to be fishing in Minnesota, “Everyone is in a pretty good mood, and you can talk to them,” Bakken says.
God Loves Ice Fishing
Wisconsin knows how to keep it classy on the ice, too. Take Dan Roufus, a Wisconsin harbor patrol officer and member of the International Union of Police Officers Local 21. Born and raised around Milwaukee, Roufus has been a cop for 17 years. He’s been on harbor patrol for five. For him, winter is for ice fishing.
“You haven’t lived until you’re out there at the butt crack of dawn jigging and that sun turns everything orange and lights that lake up,” he says. “It’s just gorgeous. The cold air. That hot cup of coffee as you’re soaking up the rays.”
Working harbor patrol, Roufus knows fishermen can get in trouble, which is why he recommends wearing a float suit and carrying a throw bag. The most important piece of gear, Roufus stresses, is your brain. “It’s the ultimate safety product,” he says. “Always treat ice exactly what it is—frozen water.”
When is ice fishing safe? Click HERE.
His father-in-law got him into ice-fishing, and now, Roufus spends a week fishing with a bunch of friends on Shawano Lake in northern Wisconsin. They rent a fish house and stay at a local motel. “The owners just love us,” he says. “Half of us are cops, and the other half are plumbers and construction guys. We got one buddy who’s a chef and sets up all the meals. The biggest problem we have is running out of beer. We’re just a bunch of guys thinking we’re 18 again.”
There’s certainly plenty of fishing, too. They throw back the big ones and keep a few little guys. Like Bakken, he uses his Hummingbird fish finder to take a look under the ice. Of course, he also packs his tailgating grill, brats and a few cold ones. If that’s not enough to get you to try ice fishing, Roufus has one more reason for you.
“Ice fishing and hunting are my proof that God exists,” he says. “You get out there, and you see quiet. And when you can see quiet, man is it gorgeous.”
What Ice Fishing Gear Do I Need?
- Tiny ice-fishing rod and reel
- Tackle box and bait
- 5-gallon bucket (to sit on)
- Really warm clothes and big boots
- Chemical hand warmers
- Auger, the manual versions work just fine for a few holes
- Fishing app
- Sled to haul all your gear
- Safety gear (PFD, throw bag)
- Beverages and snacks
Gear to Get After You Fall in Love with Ice Fishing:
- Fish finder
- Float suit
- Throw bag
- Fish House
- Shack heater
- Underwater camera
- Battery or gas-powered auger
- Nice folding chair
Other Articles You Might Like:
Try Ice Fishing… It’s Fun and Easy
Ice Fishing Ideas for Finicky Fish