A DREADED SEASON
For those of us more inclined to the warm weather seasons (myself included) here in New England, the advent of winter often comes with a certain sense of dread. Bone chilling temperatures, chest high snow drifts, brutal winds and all that comes with it. But it doesn't have to be! Several years ago, I discovered that winter could actually be fun and enjoyable - you just have to fish to get through it!
In this post, we will explore some of the basics of getting started ice fishing for bass and pickerel in New England, as they are two of the more commonly caught species, and a lot of fun on a handline!
The first step to getting setup for ice fishing is purchasing all the gear. As with anything in life, the price varies widely depending on the quality and sophistication of the products, but for those with more limited budgets, ice fishing is by no means a rich man's sport. To help you get started, I've itemized the basic pieces of equipment that you need to get started below:
♦ Hand ice auger for drilling holes
♦ Tip ups (ice fishing traps - number allowed varies by state)
♦ Bucket with aerator
♦ Tackle - large shiner hooks, barrel swivels, split shot (if desired)
♦ Sled (for hauling gear)
I've included a picture of a tip-up below to give those of you unfamiliar with this piece of equipment a sense of what it entails. As you can see, it's a relatively simple device:
An ice fishing tip up is essentially a reel attached to three sticks, which are all attached by a screw at their intersecting point. When the hook is rigged with a bait, the flag is pulled down and stays in place on a hook. If any line is taken out of the spool (when a fish hits), the reel turns, tripping the spring mechanism, and the flag pops up to let you know you have a take. There are many other types of tip ups available on the market today but this is the most basic and most widely used.
When ice fishing for bass and pickerel in New England, the bait of choice is shiners, or if you can get them, chubs. Chubs are saltwater minnows that can also survive in freshwater, and are hardier and last longer than shiners. However, they can be tough to come by in winter. One thing to note with bait while ice fishing is to always have an aerator to give your bait fresh oxygen. This will save you having to reach into the freezing water of your ice fishing holes to pour fresh water into the bucket.
SETTING UP YOUR TRAPS
So you have all of your gear and you've made it out onto safe ice - great! So where do you set your traps? Well, it all depends on the waters you are fishing!
Generally, the big bass in any given body of water tend to congregate in the deeper water. Convection currents in frozen ponds actually push the warmest water to the bottom, and that's where you'll find most of the bass, since they are warm water fish. By using a weight to sound the depth, you can accurately place your bait just a foot or two off the bottom. Pickerel, on the other hand, can often be found in the shallows. The best approach to fishing a new body of water is to spread your traps out in different locations and use trial and error to see where fish are congregating. It's also important to avoid areas that are choked with weeds, as these will allow your bait to hide and evade predatory fish cruising the area.
ICE FISHING LUXURIES
Outside the basic gear itemized above, there are also several "ice fishing luxuries" that make the experience much more enjoyable. First and foremost, a crackling fire! Depending on how thick the ice is, you can often make a fire right on the pond, but otherwise you'll want to bring a firepit. Depending on availability of firewood in the area, you'll likely want to bring some wood (and kindling/paper) out as well. Though not essential to get started ice fishing, a fire will definitely improve your comfort and overall experience.
Other pieces of gear that are handy but not essential include:
♦ Flasher/sonar for locating fish
♦ Jig stick - short rod for jigging for panfish
♦ Ice scoop - strains chunks of ice out of drilled holes
♦ Meat for barbecuing
♦ Case of beer and/or bottle of whiskey (for those of us aged 21+)
Winter Has Come
It certainly took it's time to get here, but it definitely feels like winter has finally come to us here in New England. In my experience, there are usually two types of people when it comes to winter weather. Those who dread it and avoid it at all costs, and those who face it head on by getting outside and enjoying it. Hopefully I've inspired you to get out there and try ice fishing for bass and pickerel in New England, because it's a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends. There are plenty of other species that you can target ice fishing as well, ranging from panfish to pike to trout. For those of you interested in pulling a few trout through the ice this winter, you may find our article on trout fishing open water to be helpful in getting started, as well as the offer below!