Lessons learned from a first year on the ice
Hey. Hi. Hello. My name is Aldo. I live in downtown Toronto, and I’m a fly fisherman. During the winter I usually tie flies, and if the rivers close to the GTA stay unfrozen, I like to chase some Great Lakes Steelhead. This year though, I wanted to get into and learn more about ice fishing. This isn’t to say I’ve NEVER been ice fishing before, because I have, but this year I was going to buy some of my own gear, and really learn about it.
Let me tell you – I had a blast. I went out a lot, sometimes while winter camping, sometimes at a cabin, sometimes while in a sleeper bunkie on the ice. Here are some lessons I learned from my first year on the ice.
Lesson One: Gear.
Who doesn’t love buying new gear? Luckily ice fishing gear isn’t too expensive for the beginner. I set out to get myself a new rod, some jig heads, leaders, line, and weights. I also got a bunch of really cool-looking lures, and a pull-sled to carry it all. Oh, a sweet new bucket to put it all in was also quite helpful. But that was really all I needed to hit the ice. The anglers I fished with always seemed to have an auger.
Here’s what I quickly learned. The sled is essential. It doesn’t matter if you’re towing it on a Ski-doo or hiking it in. Just get one. It makes life way easier, enables you to carry comforts from home, a ton of snacks, and can become a bench! It’ll hold all your gear, bags, cameras, rods and tip-ups.
Oh ya. Tip-ups.
Lesson two: Not all tip-ups are created equal.
There are tip-ups and there are letdowns. I had never used a tip-up before. I had never seen nor purchased one so I didn’t know what to look for. All I have to say is, don’t cheap out. I got burned by some not-so-sensitive models. Or better yet, make your own! Some of the most effective tip-ups I used this year were made from a few pieces of wood.
It’s an essential piece of gear that really can allow you to “cover water” and increase your chances while you jig at another hole.
Lesson three: Hot lunches hit differently.
Most things in the winter are harder but keeping some meat and vegetables cool for a little on-ice bbq is easy peasy. Whether you bring a little camp stove or you’re able to harvest some wood for a fire, nothing beats a hot lunch on the ice. Especially if you’re not in a shelter, this little reprieve can really keep you going and make your day that much more enjoyable.
My fav? Lamb Spiducci.
Remember that sled? Well, pack a grill and get that fire going. Spiducci are lamb skewers pre-prepped on wooden skewers. Pack a little salt, olive oil, and lemon, and you’re laughing. Quick to grill, eat them right on the stick so no utensils or plates are needed, and burn the sticks to clean up. Super easy and tasty (especially if the fish aren’t biting).
Lesson 4: Variety is the spice of life.
Mix it up, baby! This year I hiked into some remote backcountry spots and slept in a hot tent, stayed at a motel and ran day trips, and did an overnight right on the ice. If you’re able to spend a night on the ice or camp close to it I’d say this is an experience not to be missed.
For one, you get to sleep under a brilliant night sky full of stars. Two, you either wake up in the hut ready to fish or at camp mere feet from your spot. Three, you really get to know the lake and are able to try different things over the course of a day or weekend. Four, you don’t have to worry about driving so the beers can be enjoyed all day long.
Lesson 5: Pals.
I think it goes without saying that the thing we all realized during COVID is just how much we miss hanging out with each other! Having a good set of fishing buddies to spend your time with just makes a trip that much better. Especially when it’s cold or you’re not catching much.
The great thing about ice fishing is it doesn’t take much but a sense of adventure to do it. Even if your buddies don’t fish, I think just about anyone can have fun hanging out, punching holes, laughing, snacking and maybe even catching a fish or two. It’s a great activity to slow down and reconnect not only with the outdoors but with each other.
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