We are making it easy for cross-cultural beginners to go ice fishing this season by teaching you the essential ice fishing gear, etiquette and the sport’s Indigenous history.
Hard water fishing or ice fishing emerged from a hunter and angler’s survival skill in climates worldwide where lakes freeze during winter, trapping fish beneath four, 10 or more inches of ice to become a much loved cross-cultural winter sport.
However, learning the sport of ice fishing can be a significant barrier.
ESSENTIAL ICE FISHING GEAR
Ice fishing is a calorie-burning, strength-conditioning and mobility powerhouse activity. Unfortunately, the average cost to get started, not including ice fishing lessons from a fishing guide, is about US$800 for high-quality equipment.
However, you could get started with as little as €183.93 or $200 and purchase your gear a little at a time.
That gear, apparel and equipment could last more than 10 years with proper upkeep. And you can find significantly discounted and gently used gear at a local consignment shop or online. Here is a list of the essential beginner ice angler gear:
- Ice fishing rod + reel (shorter than a standard rod)
- Auger (a manual, gas-powered, or electric tool used for drilling holes in the ice)
- Hooks, weights, jig heads/lures (the size, shape, and colors depend on the type of fish you want to catch and the rules specific to the body of water you are fishing)
- Fishing line
- Waterproof boots
- Warm clothing (dress in layers you can add or remove)
- Ice fishing sled for carrying equipment
- Gloves (waterproof, lightweight, and warm gloves)
- Live bait (e.g., small worms or minnows)
- Spud bar for checking the ice for safety
- Bucket (For sitting, storing caught fish, and gear)
- Safety equipment (ice picks, emergency mylar blanket, throw bag or rope, boot cleats to minimize slipping, whistle to get attention in case of emergency)
ICE FISHING SAFETY
First, always assume that unsafe ice conditions may exist, and you should create a habit of checking the weather conditions, ice (thickness) reports and barometric pressure. If you are near mountain slopes, check the avalanche reports for the area.
Next, adventure sports like ice fishing have some risks. Beginner ice anglers should remember to go fishing with a buddy. And tell one or more people where you are going, the route you are taking, and what time you will check in to tell them you are safely home. If you don’t contact them and they can’t reach you at the check-in time, they’ll send help.
Lastly, always jab your spud bar into the ice to check that it is solid and firm. An experienced ice angler will tell a beginner that “clear ice is the safest.” Milky ice is typically where ice has gone through freezing and thawing or recent snow froze to the ice.
However, four inches of ice is considered minimally safe to walk on, but at least six inches is better for an inexperienced ice angler. A beginner ice angler can drill a few test holes to measure the ice thickness before venturing too far out on the ice.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FALL THROUGH THE ICE
According to Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, you have about 30 minutes before becoming hypothermic. But here is what you can do to survive a fall through the ice.
You have just fallen through the ice into the water. The cold water might send you into shock for one to three minutes. Know that you have time, so control your breathing and don’t panic.
To save yourself, spread your arms to your sides like a letter Y, tread water for a second to catch your breath, kick your legs up to the surface, and pull yourself onto the ice. You can also have ice picks around your neck that you can jab into the ice as you pull yourself out of the water.
A buddy can throw you a length of rope or a throw bag. Reach for the rope, not the bag, throw it over your shoulder, turn away from your rescuer, and kick while they pull you from the water. Finally, get out of your wet clothes, put on dry clothes and get under an emergency blanket, by a fire or into a heated vehicle as quickly as possible. Drinking a warm beverage can also help raise your body temperature and prevent hypothermia.
ICE FISHING CULTURE
Like any affinity group, anglers and ice anglers have a culture and language that is unique to the sport. To learn more about fishing culture in general, check out this video: ‘Fishing Etiquette and More.’
THE COMPLEX HISTORY OF ICE FISHING’S ORIGINS
First, although historians are unclear where and when ice fishing began, the oldest carved lures dating back 2,000 years were found among the Inuit, First Nation and other Indigenous peoples of Greenland, Canada and the United States.
HISTORY OF ICE FISHING IN EUROPE AND ASIA
However, the tradition of ice fishing on Chagan Lake (Chagan Hu) in the Mongolian Autonomous County of Qian Gorlos, Songyuan City, Jilin Province of China also claims a 2,000-year tradition of ice fishing which lasts today.
The Ojibwe peoples of the U.S. and Canada occupy land surrounding the Great Lakes region, which includes Ontario, Canada, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan in the U.S.
The Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa or Saulteaux peoples used ice chisels to cut a hole in the ice and spearfishing techniques using “dark houses” and simple fishing rods. Winter fishing became more productive for the Ojibwa when they developed the “jig and net technique,” which allowed anglers to catch more fish in a shorter time on the ice.
About 523 years ago, European explorers learned about dark house ice fishing from the Ojibwe and brought the concept of ice fishing back to Europe around 1500, according to archeologists.
Next, the survival skill turned sport of ice fishing became a cross-cultural winter activity among Indigenous folk and Europeans worldwide. However, since the Inuit people of Greenland, Canada and Alaska also ice-fished 2,000 years ago, some Europeans claim a 2,000-year ice fishing tradition. Although Greenland is geographically a part of the North American continent, it is politically and culturally associated with Europe. However, Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.
DIVERSITY IN ICE FISHING
As you can see, the origins of ice fishing have a complex heritage.
Today regardless of ice fishing’s long tradition among Indigenous people, only “over 9 million people of color fished in the U.S. (in 2020) out of the 50 million who went fishing.” Nonprofit organizations, fishing equipment and apparel manufacturers are working to introduce ice fishing to new anglers, including anglers of color, through targeted marketing and sponsored learning events.
THE WORLD’S BEST PLACES TO ICE FISH
If you ask three ice anglers — ice fishing men, women and folk where to find the best ice fishing, you will likely get two lists. The third person would say it depends on the fish you want to catch.
According to Debbie Hansen of ‘Take me fishing,” here are the top six places in the world to ice fish:
- Greenland for an extreme fishing adventure, ice fishing for arctic char — Kangerlussuaq Fjord.
- Ontario, Manitoba, Canada, and Minnesota U.S. are renowned for catching walleye — Lake of the Woods.
- Ontario, Canada, offers yellow perch, lake trout, northern pike, and whitefish — Lake Simcoe.
- Michigan U.S. in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a top lake for finding jumbo yellow perch — Lake Gogebic.
- North Dakota U.S. produces an abundance of walleye, northern pike, and white bass — Devil’s Lake.
- Siberia, you can find epic perch or roach on the 11th longest river in the world — Lena River.
This writer would add fishing anywhere in Wisconsin, U.S.A., as one of the best places to ice fish.
HEAD TO THE WATER FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Becoming a beginner ice angler is a great way to defend yourself against the “winter blues” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Worldwide, deaths of despair — suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol-related deaths are at record levels.
According to the Institute for Family Studies, a Centers for Disease Control report stated one in five millennials report having no friends, and 56% of Gen Zers report loneliness in the past twelve months, according to the Institute for Family Studies.
“We’re just not meant to be sedentary, screen-staring, and meaning-devoid creatures,” Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D. writes in his new book, Digital Madness. Instead, Kardaras says: “Psychologists have known for decades that the best non-pharmaceutical antidepressant is physical activity — taking a walk, riding a bike, jogging, playing a sport.
We’re just not meant to be sedentary, screen-staring, and meaning-devoid creatures.Nicholas Kardaras