I didn’t grow up ice fishing. Before I met my husband when I thought “ice fishing” I imagined the scene in Grumpy Old Men where they pan out on dozens upon dozens of people fishing. Also, as you might guess, I didn’t actually think about ice fishing very frequently before I met my husband.
For me, the term “ice fishing” conjured up a mental image of rows and rows of bob houses (or shanties, if you will) filled with old men, who were most likely drinking and using “fishing” as an excuse to take a break from the stressors and chores of home.
But when I met my husband, a new picture of ice fishing was painted for me. My husband embraces ice fishing and not just in the winter. He is never fully satisfied with the knowledge he has, and he always knows he can learn more. Just last week, he gave me a lecture about knowing your body of water before you go out on it. He was visibly upset when he watched the coverage of those who had been ice fishing on Lake Superior when the ice broke away. Not only did he imagine the fear they must have felt at having to be rescued, but he also empathized about the pain that he knew they were feeling for the gear that they couldn’t rescue.
The love of ice fishing didn’t just stop with my husband. He proudly passed that love down to our children as well.
Every spare moment of winter weekends (and some weekdays) from January – mid-March, my husband and kids are out on the ice. Me? I don’t like to be cold. And I refuse to touch a fish. So, I’m usually out. Ok, honestly, I’m ALWAYS out. I think I’ve gone ice fishing once. It’s not my thing, and we are all satisfied with this arrangement.
Truth be told, I’m actually scared of being on the ice. There needs to be a solid 10” or more before I’ll go out there. I’ve even been bribed with having the pop-up set up with a heater, a seat for me to read a book, and bacon cooking on the little grill. It’s tempting, but not tempting enough.
What I want to share with you is my family’s take on a few of my ice fishing questions. Will these answer every burning question you have? No. Truthfully, the kids know way more terminology than I do.
Let’s set the interview scene. Picture me, obviously in sweats and holding a hot mug of tea (not to be confused with hot toddy — or maybe it is), fully prepared to ask my genius questions. My husband and kids have been separated from each other and are not allowed to be in the room at the same time when answering questions. My approach is highly scientific, and I am ready to interview my subjects. Each of whom is equally irritated with me, and my husband most likely wishing he was on the ice right this moment!
When you are ice fishing, do you prefer live bait** or lures?
Husband: Lures, solely because this is how I prefer to fish.
Daughter: Live bait.
Son: Live bait.
Do you use a power auger or hand auger to drill into the ice? (I am grinning as I ask this question, proud to show the depth of my knowledge.)
Husband: (eye roll). I use an electric drill with clam plate 2, and an 8 inch auger. Is that really a question? He explains more but I was unable to pay attention long enough to record his reply.
Daughter: Power. Dad finally let me try it this year.
Son: Either one works as long as dad is doing it.
When is the ice considered safe?
Husband: 4 inches to walk out safely.
Daughter: When the ice is fully frozen and 6 inches thick.
Son: 3-5 inches.
Favorite fish species to target in VT?
Husband: Lake trout.
Daughter: Perch is my favorite. I like to get out there and catch a bunch. Pike is what I want, but I haven’t been successful yet.
Son: Trout. Salmon would be good since I want mom to eat what I catch.
What basic essentials are needed to go ice fishing?
Husband: Jigging rod, lures, warm clothes, waterproof boots, and something to pop a hole in the ice
Daughter: Warm clothes, fishing rod, bait, tackle box, auger, shanty if you have one (not essential). And depending on how long you stay out there, you will need snacks.
Son: Bait, tip-ups, sled to pull the gear out, auger, and lots of food
(You’ll notice the kids’ “basics” aren’t entirely basic.)
In my opinion, having your own shanty, like a flip over and pop up** is essential, when it’s in your budget. They protect you further from the elements and can help you stay out longer when you are trying to catch that perfect fish.
What is your favorite part about ice fishing?
Husband: I like being able to fish a body of water in the spots I can’t get to without a boat in the summer.
Daughter: Catching fish and going with dad.
Son: The snacks.
Husband: Relax. I like the quiet. I go to ice fish, so I don’t need to do anything else when I’m out there (except for keeping an eye on the kids when they come too).
Daughter: I like to go skating as well. Play in the snow while waiting for flags.
Son: Wait. You wait a lot. I also like to play in the snow, skate, and worry about other people’s flags. Last week, this guy was fishing near us and he went into his pop up and he went forever before he noticed his flag!
Do you prefer to ice fish in big lakes or small ponds? Why?
Husband: Big lakes, because I prefer to target lake trout.
Daughter: Big lakes. I feel like I’m more likely to catch something.
Son: Small ponds, they are closer to home and we don’t have to bring as much gear.
Tip-ups or jigging?
Husband: Jigging. Each method has its own purpose. With tip-ups you can run more lines, but I like to run and gun**.
Daughter: Tip-ups. Definitely tip-ups. It’s exciting to see the flag and rush to see what I caught. When I’m jigging, sometimes it’s too hard to reel the fish up.
Son: Tip-ups. You can set and forget.
What is your best ice fishing tip you can pass on?
Husband: Not every day will be successful. And electronics make it easy, like the Humminbird Ice Helix 7 fishfinder.
Daughter: Always make sure the ice is safe. No matter where you are on the ice. And double-check that you brought everything (dad forgot the auger once).
Son: Dress in layers, and have fun with it. Watch out for old holes!
We live on the eastern side of Vermont, so you’ll often find my family on Lake Fairlee, Lake Morey, Halls Pond, or up North at Seymour. But this year, my husband discovered Lake Caspian and I’m sure he’ll visit it plenty in years to come.
Ice fishing has given my husband and kids an opportunity to explore parts of the state that they wouldn’t necessarily spend any length of time visiting. They have discovered great bait shops and small mom-and-pop stores with the most incredible baked goods and deli sandwiches. Best of all, my husband and kids are outdoors, being active, and having fun together… all while I get some alone time.
Right now, the ice fishing season is winding down, but it’s a perfect time to start preparing for next season. You’ll be able to find deals on gear, prepare your wishlist, and start scouting perfect bodies of water where you might want to try ice fishing.
Ice fishing is a Vermont winter staple. Just like skiing, snowmobiling, skating, and sledding. The trick is finding what winter sport works for you, or what routine catches your attention. Changing the body of water, or changing from tip-ups to jigging can make a world of difference in the ice fishing world.
**Glossary of “fancy ice fishing terms”
Tip-Up: this is the tool (often wooden) where the fishing line that is attached to the stationary rod is tripped, raising a signal flag when a fish takes the bait. This uses live bait and has two sticks that form an “X” dropping the line into the water.
Jigging: this is using a special fishing rod to ice fish. Jigging rods are smaller in nature than your standard open water fishing rod.
“Run and gun”: a term used by anglers when they want to fish as many holes as possible. With tip-up fishing, you drill the holes and wait. When you jig, you can fish and then move on to the next hole when that hole isn’t successful. The term is often associated with tournaments so the angler can cover more territory in less time- and have the potential of catching more fish.
Live bait: this is as it sounds… fishing bait that is alive. That bucket sitting near the angler who has tip-ups is probably full of minnows.
Flip-over shanty: this is often attached to a sled so that the angler can pull all their gear onto the ice. It includes a seat and a cover that will flip over them to protect from the elements. The first picture in this article shows my husband in his flip-over shanty.
Pop-up shanty: this is a shanty that is similar to a pop-up tent and often much larger than a flip-over shanty. It also serves to protect the angler(s) from the elements.