Any fisherman trying out a lake for the first time knows that doing so requires some homework and preparation. Most will look up maps of the lake, check the weather forecasts, and some will even contact local bait shops for insight into proven techniques and lures utilized by locals. Ice fishing a new lake is no different. In fact, because you can only trust the ice to hold you based on the thickness, you could argue that, due to the increased potential danger, it’s more taxing than fishing during the spring and summer. The basic pre-fishing rituals are consistent, however—researching the weather, checking maps for depth, etc.—when ice fishing on an unfamiliar body of water, and responsible anglers would do well to exercise a few basic steps to ensure their first trip to a new location goes smoothly.
After you’ve decided on a lake and the species for which you’ll primarily be fishing, it’s time to obtain a little knowledge on the spot. A good start is to contact the local DNR and check stocking and netting reports for your species. While you have them on the phone, ask about any regulations you may not be clear on. This will ensure you don’t face fines or lose your gear for not being compliant with local laws. While you’re making phone calls, see if there are any bait shops near the lake and contact them to check on ice depth, and to see how the action’s been recently. Try not to pry, as many anglers aren’t quick to give up secrets, but most bait shops will tell you what their customers have had luck with. As a thank you for their tips, stop by and pick up some bait on the way to the lake.
Ice fishing alone, especially on an unfamiliar lake, is a bad idea. I suggest calling up a friend and bringing him/her along on your trip to the ice. This way, you’ll have someone to talk to, assistance should something go wrong, and, at the very least, double the limit for the day. Together, collaborate on road maps, optimal paths to reach lake access, spots to try on the ice, and steps to take in the case of an accident. Furthermore, having someone with you will lighten your gear load and will also allow you both to try different presentations and lures, doubling your chances of landing more fish. Lastly, take some time and familiarize yourself with the warning signs of unsafe ice before you head out. Look for springs, creeks that empty into areas near where you’ll be fishing, and current; these factors all have impacts on the thickness of the ice.
The first step in any fishing trip is readying your tackle for your needs for the day. Ice fishing preparation requires a little more caution and careful planning, as one mistake on the ice can spell disaster. I’ve let you in on steps you can take before heading out to ensure your safety and a greater bounty of fish. Come back for Part Two, where I’ll give you some tips on how to use your gear on an unfamiliar lake.