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Ice fishing? Here's what you need to know

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Since my last column three weeks ago, I have spent seven days out on the water, including my annual fall trip to Tobin Lake, Sask.

Timing plays a major role in fishing success and if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, chances are you will enjoy some great success. That said, every year Jim Price and I try to time our trip up to Tobin for the end of October. We feel with the reduced water temperatures, the walleye will head to the river section of this system chasing the baitfish that move in at this time of year.

While we caught some nice walleye this year, it was nowhere near as good as the previous year. Why? Nobody knows for sure, but a lack of current combined with limited forage could be responsible. This certainly seems like the case up at Pine Falls, where, with a flow down about 80 per cent from 2010, there are no big numbers of fish in the system.

Price and I went for a day and managed 10 walleye when most around us were having trouble catching any fish. That is another reason the Red River fished so well this fall -- an increased current flow from previous years brought the walleye back in good numbers. It should also make for a great first ice season this year. I can hardly wait.

Many people I talk to over the course of year ask me what I do in the winter. I ice fish, of course. Some give a look of amazement. How could that possibly be fun!

Not only is it fun, but it is a recreational pursuit that anyone can afford. That would explain why over the last 10 years this segment of the sport fishing industry has seen the largest growth. What does a person need to start catching fish through the ice? There is a pretty simple answer: enough good ice to make it safe to venture out on. The standard guidelines are four inches to walk, and when you do go, bring someone along.

Also early in the season you will want to travel light. Don't haul a heavy auger around if you don't have to. A simple hand auger will usually suffice early in the year or even a spud bar (heavy metal bar with a sharp nose) can easily make holes. Carry all your equipment on a toboggan or sled and bungee cord them down if you are going over some rough terrain. You should also have along a five-gallon pail to sit on, along with an ice skimmer to clean the holes that you make in the ice. Into this bucket you can fit a small lure kit, along with skimmer ice rods, bait and some snacks.

Wear boots that are waterproof if possible. I have had the same pair of rubberized, insulated boots for 10 years and my feet have never been damp once. I do recommend ice cleats, especially early in the year with little snow cover. It can be darn slippery and bones have been broken. These cleats will fit over your existing footwear and give you the stability you will need.

While it's hard to cover as much area ice fishing as from a boat, there are certain things you can do to increase your chances of contacting fish. It sure pays to bring along a portable GPS with the waypoints locked in to the areas you were catching fish in open water. After establishing location, check depths through the ice with your portable fish finder.

Look for the edge of the drop-off combined with both points into deeper water as well as inside turns, then start drilling holes in a grid pattern and spread out. That's why it's so much better to make ice fishing a social event, the more anglers the better in many cases as it shortens the time it takes to find fish and figure out what they might bite on that particular day.

On your first trip to the lake, start out at daylight so you can figure out just how much ice you do have. That's why you bring along basic survival gear such as rope, axe, waterproof matches, whistle, first aid kit, ice picks, and cell phone just in case the unexpected happens and you get stranded.

As you start exploring the lake to find active fish, you might have to try a number of different areas and depths, but once you do make contact, drill a number of holes near the productive spot and get ready to catch some fish.

Weather also plays a factor, and if the daytime bite is slow, there might be an opportunity for a pretty impressive night bite on the same body of water. Using an underwater camera in conjunction with portable electronics can really help in understanding what is happening down below your ice hole. These are just a few of the aids now available on the market.

dlamont@mymts.net

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2011 C16

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