The Pros and Cons of Ice Fishing

     I know many people who love ice fishing. As soon as deer season ends they instantly shift their attention to tip-ups and ice augers. My first experience with ice fishing wasn’t until I was in my 20’s. It was exciting to be trying something different and having another excuse to get outdoors in the dead of winter to do something I love. I’m not certain about the particulars but I am pretty sure my first experience was on Dryden Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region. As I recall the outing was underwhelming in terms of fish caught but it was fascinating to go through the process to get rigged and learn the tricks and methods. It wasn’t long before I bought myself a jig pole, acquired an auger and started to get outfitted. It looked like I was poised to get fully involved in this seemingly bizarre winter pastime that finds people sitting on overturned buckets, on a frozen lake after drilling a series of holes in the ice.
     Turns out, that’s not quite how things ended up. In spite of living for a time in the Adirondacks and having spent a fair bit of time fishing several lakes and ponds, the itch to ice fish never went very deep. Don’t get the wrong idea, I enjoy getting out on the ice from time to time and occasionally spend a whole day out. It’s just not something I want to do every weekend, all winter long. Lots of folks find the prospect of sitting on the ice, in the snow in the middle of winter less than appealing, but I don’t think that’s my issue. I’ve been on the ice on sunny days so warm I had to strip down to a sweatshirt. As for the cold, miserable days, those aren’t any different from deer hunting weather and I don’t hesitate to sit in a tree stand for that. When it comes to success, I suppose that may have put me off somewhat. I have never had a good day in terms of fish caught. Usually a small pike or about a half dozen perch is all I have to show for my time, if that. My brother and many of his associates, on the other hand, have come off the ice many a time with a five gallon bucket full of panfish. I suppose suffering through meager success is part of paying one’s dues, but somehow I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm for it.
     I think what I find off-putting is all the stuff. Jig poles, tip-ups, augers, tackle bags, bait buckets, buckets to sit on, buckets for fish, pack baskets to haul gear, jet sleds to haul gear, pop up shanties to cut the wind, and small, propane heaters to cut the chill. It’s just so much crap to lug out onto the ice and lug back. And once the hauling is done, the setting up begins. Holes need to be drilled, depths sounded, tip-ups rigged, jigs tipped. Once this is done it’s not a mater of siting for several hours waiting. The whole operation requires maintenance. Tip-ups need to be tended to keep them baited and free of ice and the holes themselves need to be kept ice-free as well. False flags are a nuisance as well, resulting in a trip to a tip up, the line hauled in and the hook inspected. For some enthusiasts, this helps keep them engaged and active in what they are doing. To me, it just feels like busy work. I’ve been told by several people that ice fishing is more fun if you bring some beer along. I’ve tried it both ways and concluded that ice drinkin’ really isn’t for me. It can be hard enough manipulating small hooks, fine fishing line and slippery baitfish in the cold without adding and alcohol-induced buzz to the mix.
     As I stated previously, I don’t mind heading onto the ice a few times a year. In spite of the cold it is better than sitting inside all winter and it’s a chance to put some fish in the freezer. There also exists an interesting social culture on the frozen lakes and ponds. Small, temporary communities sometimes crop up, particularly on popular bodies of water where permanent shanties can be dragged out. It’s easy to walk over to another group and strike up a conversation when things get slow. But I doubt I will ever be a devout hard-water enthusiast. Although small game hunting in Vermont ends December 31st, just across the border in New York much of ice fishing season coincides with small game season. I suppose I simply like chasing grouse and rabbits more than catching fish. Or maybe it’s just easier to stay warm that way.

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