Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Ice fishing on a lake can have its rewards
Why would an open water fisherman be so fussy with his entire approach to this sport and many ice fishermen are just the opposite, seems to be a historical fault. When we first started ice fishing our tip-ups were broken down antiques, that if we had taken the time to service them with new line and terminal-gear, solve wobbly and bent spools and make sure the flag tripping mechanism is working properly, we would have had way more success and a lot less heartbreak.
One of the things that we've often observed is ice anglers using their tip-up to break open new ice in their fishing hole. By yanking the rig out through the new ice, there's a big chance of putting your spool not only out of round but also bending the spool's spindle. If you have light leader coming up under the ice, there's also the chance in breaking or weakening it by the violence of breaking ice with the rig.
People with a lot of experience, when checking their gear or when a flag goes up take their ice skimmer or ice spud with them to carefully break up and remove the ice around the rig before lifting it free.
Another thing that can spoil your day is for yourself or fishing buddies walking around you when you are playing a fish and not noticing that they may be stepping on line you've pulled up onto the ice while playing that fish. If they are wearing ice creepers on their boots, there's a good chance that your line or leader may be cut or damaged enough to easily break.
Keep the use of hardware such as snaps, snap-swivels or just swivels to a minimum and if you do use what should be the only hardware - a swivel, make sure it's the smallest that your fishing should call for. When playing a decent fish those snaps or swivels have a tendency to reach out and grab the ice rim of your fishing hole. And with a very lively bait, the swivel may be necessary to keep from tangling, but a good idea is to tie it a couple of feet away from your bait so your baitfish won't be likely to rise up that far and get tangled with it.
One of the most common mistakes is after fishing, leaving your tip-ups in a place where that wet line will freeze solid to the spool. When that happens on one of those cold and windy days when you want to deploy your fishing gear as fast as you can and try to keep your hands dry in the process, you'll remember this tip well. As each tip up will have to be dipped into the water until the line thaws and then you're working with bare and cold wet hands to set your gear.
Some people like to slip a clothes button onto their line so that they can slide the button to mark the depth of their baits after sounding with a line sounding weight. That's not a bad idea with some of the small and slippery super braids or fairly light mono of fluoro line, but with regular woven line it's not that good of an idea as these buttons won't slide well when the line gets soaked and expands or freezes. One of the best tricks we've seen is to use a very small plastic curtain ring. It is easily fixed to the line by just slipping a loop of line inside and around the ring.
Anyone who hasn't seen their sounding-weight disappear down their fishing hole after slipping off their line hasn't done much ice fishing. It is a good idea to bring extras and have them handy by just clipping them to your clothing such as a pocket flap. We've seen a lot of people clip theirs to the handle of their bait bucket.
Finally, probably the majority of ice fishermen will dispose of their remaining live bait by pouring them down their fishing hole. That is never a good idea and in most places patently illegal. You may be unwillingly moving unwanted species from one body of water to another. It's very easy for tiny species of unwanted species to be mixed in with your chosen shiner or smelt bait.
Open water anglers seem to be very fussy with their gear and how they use it. It seems that ice anglers are starting to pick up on this same type of care and that's a great thing. Ice fishing in a lot of places is getting more angler hours than open water fishing. If you want to do it, ice fishing can be way more rewarding by giving thought to all of your actions before taking them. Get out there and enjoy one of the most fun things you can do on an icy lake. And for a bonus if you are careful with your catch and keep it cool, there's nothing like fresh fillets sizzling in a hot cast-iron pan.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.