Winter has arrived in New Mexico and thick sheets of ice have formed on many lakes providing anglers with an opportunity to keep fishing in a whole new way.
Ice fishing is a sure fire cure for the winter blues and when properly done can be fun and fulfilling too.
And if there’s one rule to ice fishing it’s that there’s no such thing as being over dressed.
To enjoy an ice fishing expedition one need only follow these simple tips and tricks.
Wear layers so you’re always ready for the worst but can peel off clothes as weather permits.
Some days you could start out looking like the kid in “A Christmas Story”, bundled up with so many layers you could hardly move. But by the end the day you might be wearing a short sleeved shirt and heavy layers of sunscreen!
A typical ice fishing outfit might include a layer of thermal underwear underneath a set of sweat pants and sweatshirt. Top that off with heavy, waterproof, pants and jacket.
To protect your cheeks and nose from the elements wear a thin balaclava over your face.
A fur hat with ear flaps or a thick knit cap will come in handy as will a good pair of thick, warm, gloves.
If you lack this kind of clothing shop the snow-boarding section of a sporting goods store.
Make sure you wear a warm pair of waterproof boots, preferably without laces, they tend to freeze up when wet and are a real pain to untie.
You’ll only need one pair of breathable socks if you have sufficiently warm boots. Too many socks and your feet will sweat which will eventually result in cold feet and a miserable angler.
Next you’ll need a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from the bright conditions.
Optics with fog inserts or goggles are best for blocking wind and keeping your lenses from fogging.
Also bring a pair of hand warmers, they also double as a great way to ensure the wax worms in your pocket don’t freeze!
Before going out on the ice one should obtain the following safety equipment.
Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a Hypothermia expert at the University of Manitoba in Canada, teamed up with the Discovery Channel to create instructional videos posted on YouTube that show how to get out of the water if you fall through the ice.
Watch “Survival in the Ice – Part 1” on YouTube before you head out on your first trip.
It’s even wiser to buy or build a pair of safety spikes that can be carried with you and used to stab into the ice and pull yourself out if you do fall through.
Even something as simple as a couple of sharpened screwdrivers hanging from a string dangling around the neck will do the trick.
Always carry a long length of good rope with you too when out on the ice. Tie a loop on one end large enough for someone to slide over their head and arm so you can use it to pull them out.
These simple tools and some knowledge can save your life.
Another situation that presents itself during ice fishing is the potential for a bad slip and fall.
Alleviate this possibility by getting a pair of ice cleats that slip over your boots.
They’ll make a huge difference when fishing on slick ice.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need them and are without, stretch an extra pair of socks over your boots to gain some extra grip.
You’ll also need an auger of some sort so you can drill a hole through the ice to fish through.
Some people will use a battery operated power drill with a long, fluted, wood drill bit to start a hole
Some bait and tackle shops at lakes like Eagle Nest rent ice augers and other equipment for ice anglers to use.
A hand auger will work for thinner ice but once you start fishing through 20″ of ice you’ll quickly want to upgrade to a motor driven auger.
As for finding the fish; it helps if you know the structure of the lake you are fishing in advance.
Fish eat all winter long, finding them can take one hole or may require making “Swiss Cheese” of the lake.
Move around a lot, if you don’t get a bite within twenty minutes; drill more holes!
Once a hole had been drilled you’ll need an ice scoop to clean out the slush and keep it clear. Plastic scoops work fine but a metal scoop will last forever.
For fishing gear a regular spinning rod will work but you can get a short ice rod combo for under $30.
These 18 to 30-inch long rods allow you to stay close to the hole so you can see what you’re doing.
You’ll want something to sit upon and a five gallon bucket with a swivel lid for a seat is ideal.
These buckets hold plenty of gear inside and with the addition of one of those bucket organizers from the hardware store there’ll be plenty of pockets for stashing tools and gear on the outside.
The next thing you’ll need is a means of transporting all your gear across the ice.
There are lightweight sleds that you can buy or build your own from a plastic, concrete mixing bin from the hardware store.
And if the winds are howling you might want to consider getting a portable ice shack.
One great thing about a shack is it blocks the sunlight over your hole allowing you to see further down into the water.
And in clear, shallow, water you’ll be able to see the fish and how they’re reacting to your bait and you’ll be able to make react quickly.
It’s a great way to watch as fish take your rig.
As far as fishing tackle goes the lightest line, 2-14 pound test, should cover everything from Perch to Pike.
Use a lighter line when fishing small jigs or bait and heavier line when jigging bigger lures.
You can jig, twitch the lure up and down, with a variety of lures like Kastmasters, Swedish Pimples, Dynamic HD Ice, crappie jigs, and plastic tubes like Gitzits.
You can add a piece of bait to a lure too or just fish it by itself, try a little of both and see what happens.
Live baits like wax worms, meal worms, or night crawlers are worth trying too.
Sometimes fish respond better to plastic synthetic baits so make sure to carry plastic worms, nymphs, and grubs just in case.
A hook setter like The Jawjacker is a great piece of equipment as it will set the hook when the fish bites ensuring it’s hooked even when you’re not standing over the rod at the time.
Okay now that we’ve got the gear covered, it’s time to head out to a lake.
Try Eagle Nest for starters and then follow up on Fish Enchantment’s online fishing forum at http://www.fishenchantment.com/SMF/ for more tips on where and when to go.
At Eagle Nest Lake illegally planted pike are threatening the popular trout fishery and anglers are now required to kill or keep any they catch and catch as many as they can in an attempt to reduce their numbers.
Always check the ice thickness before going out on the lake and stay away from weak spots like pressure ridges and open water.
Remember you proceed at your own risk every time you step out onto the ice.
If the ice looks really thin, throw a big rock onto the ice. If it doesn’t go through, drill a hole in shallow water to test the thickness of the ice.
Five inches is an accepted safe starting point for many in the angling community while the state of New Mexico uses nine inches.
For more information on ice fishing check out the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice/index.html for plenty of helpful tips.
Now get out there and catch some fish, ice fishing is a great experience if you’re prepared.