It’s that time of year again. By now most people have accepted the fact that winter is here although many Manitobans will continue to question their sanity for living here in the first place. Bemoaning the coming of winter has become an annual ritual for many folks. For some however, below freezing temperatures signify the nearing of something special and I’m not talking about Christmas, although the eventual arrival of hardwater season is in many ways like Christmas morning for many ice anglers. I know many grown men who count down the days and squeal in anticipation for ‘first safe ice’.
November for me used to mean having to put my fishing gear away and the start of a long six or so month wait until opening day in May. But ever since I was introduced to ice fishing by my Ninong Kenny about 15 years ago, I have found winters to be much more enjoyable and they now go by way too fast. I have in turn introduced many other people to the sport since that time and now spend a good number of winter weekends with my ever growing ice fishing ‘crew’.
The natural question everyone always asks is “Is it safe?” Everyone’s first time on a frozen body of water will be “trippy” for lack of a better term. My initial experience had me tip-toeing around in constant disbelief that what I was walking on had been open water only a few short weeks earlier. I recall the first time I heard the loud ‘ice thunder’ that often happens when the ice stress-cracks, I frantically ran to shore in a panic leaving many experienced anglers laughing at my expense at their fishing holes. I know now that this is perfectly natural and is actually a sign of good ice. The look on someone’s face when they first hear this never gets old though.
Ice fishing in reality is no more dangerous than any other outdoor activity. The key is safety knowledge, preparedness, and common sense. My advice for anyone who wants to learn or experience this pastime for the first time is to go out with someone or a group who know what they are doing. They will have the experience and some of the equipment needed for you to enjoy a day out on the ice.
This sport doesn’t require too much of an investment to get started. Basic things such as proper winter boots, a winter jacket, and insulated snow pants are essential. Jeans and long johns with a pair of hikers will definitely not cut it if you plan to be outside for more than 15 minutes regardless of how fancy your North Face jacket is. Other than that, if going with a ‘guide’, the minimum gear that you will need is an ice fishing rod or two and some bait and tackle. As with any activity, there are of course endless bells and whistles that you could acquire should you find yourself committing to the sport. From ice suits and boots rated for the next ice age, to a wide variety of portable shelters and heaters, to power gas ice augers to make holes. From advanced electronics specifically designed for ice fishing, to an endless variety of tackle and lures designed to get hardwater bites, all the way to snowmobiles and ATVs to get to more inaccessible areas.
Instead of complaining, get out and embrace the winter season. One of the best ways to do that is to give ice fishing a try. Contact me anytime if you are interested in heading out for a trip.