Finding food in winter can be difficult as most forage has rotted away or been stripped by hungry animals. However, beneath the frozen surface of many lakes lies a bounty of delicious fish swimming slowly near the murky bottom. The specialized techniques of ice fishing can help you tap into this food source, if you have the proper tools.
For ice fishing you can’t just find a convenient hole and plop down your standard pole and line, you need certain tools designed for ice fishing. These include:
A manual augur like this one is extremely useful for punching through thick ice.
The ice fishing augur or saw. These are used to cut holes in the ice, since you’ll be standing on top of several inches of thick ice in order to find a safe fishing spot. Although motorized augurs are available in modern times, during a survival situation you would be better served with a manual augur or saw.
Ice fishing pole. These are different from standard poles, as they are shorter and designed to give you a better feel for the lighter tugs of lethargic, half-frozen fish. Technically you can fish with a regular pole if all else fails, but ice poles are fairly cheap and the inconveniences of using the wrong kind of pole can result in unacceptable lost catches.
The skimmer. This is essential, as this tool is needed to scoop out rubble from drilled holes and to pull out ice as it begins to form over your new fishing spot. Essentially a sieve with a long handle, skimmers are generally very cheap and you would do well to stock several for emergency use.
For true survival fishing, a convenient tool known as a tip-up could be a lifesaver. Basically it is a contraption that allows for passive fishing, since it will help hold the fish on the line for you until you have the chance to investigate. They are often equipped with flags or bells that activate when the line on the tip-up is pulled, and you can easily setup multiple ice holes with tip-ups for maximum fishing efficiency.
Optionally you can also purchase or build an ice hut, which is a mobile building designed to be placed over an ice hole in order to block the wind and snow for additional comfort. Although this would be helpful in reducing instances of frostbite or hypothermia, it also leaves a much more obvious footprint while it is present which could tip off other people to your presence.
How to Ice Fish?
Ice fishing is generally pretty simple once you have the process down. There is an element of risk, however if you do not take the proper precautions. Read on for our ice fishing tips!
Select a lake. Generally speaking you will need at least 4 inches of solid ice in order to have sufficient thickness to stand on it for a long time and fish. If you have a heavy wooden shelter, you will require roughly 7-12 inches of solid ice. Beware of ice with the proper depth that is extremely fragile and crackly, known as “rotten ice”, that can give way even with proper thickness. In a pinch, many fishermen will use rotten ice that is twice as thick as normal ice, so a person would need 8 inches of rotten ice and a wooden shelter 14-24 inches. I would not recommend fishing on rotten ice, period as the danger during a survival situation is far too great.
A 6 inch hole will do you just fine.
Cut your hole and remove the debris. Using your augur or saw, carve a hole down to the unfrozen water that is about 8 inches around. If you wish it can be made a little larger or smaller, but 8 inches is the common hole size and so most of your equipment will be designed to work well there. Once the hole is drilled completely you can use your skimmer to remove the debris.
Set your bait and put your line down into the hole. Baits in frozen waters are generally artificial, as the chill will rapidly slow worms and grubs. When setting the depth of your bait, there are 3 schools of thought. First, you should place the bait about 3 feet below the ice. Second, place the bait about 6-9 feet below the ice. Thirdly (and most commonly) place the bait a couple feet above the bed of the lake. Each of these techniques are suitable for various kinds of fish, but many will allow that the lakebed is often teeming with fish when compared to the upper layers making it a good safe bet.
Wait. Ice fishing is no different from fishing in warmer seasons. You will have a lot of waiting to do on the ice as you feel for the light tugs of the fish. Be aware that most fish in frozen lakes are very lethargic and they will not tug as sharply on your hook as you may be used to.
Once you have a fish on the line, allow it to fight until you can easily pull its head into the ice hole. You don’t want to be trying to fight the fish in the hole if possible, so let it tucker itself out in the open waters underneath. Once it is in the ice hole, pull it out rapidly onto the ice so that it doesn’t get caught in the hole.
Enjoy your fresh catch! Typical ice fish treasures include pan fish (which as we’ve noted previously are also less likely to ingest poisonous materials)
In the next installment we will discuss using a tip-up, as well as the different kinds available on the market. Until then, you can use these techniques to collect a nice batch of fish for the pan even in a winter survival situation.
How to Build and Use a Tip-Up?
Previously we discussed some of the methods commonly used for ice fishing when you have the luxury of being there and tending to the line. In this post, we’re going to look at how to build and use a tool known as a tip-up that helps to “watch” your fishing hole for you.
Many designs, but all with a similar principle.
The basic idea of a tip-up is a mechanism that can do two things:
Hold onto your line for you until a fish grabs it, whereupon it will spool line off of the reel.
Once a fish begins pulling on the line, it will tip up a flag, ring a bell, or give some other indication that a fish is on the line.
Any contraption that you can build and put on the ice that accomplishes these two tasks will suffice for a tip-up. You can setup multiple tip-ups at different areas and depths in the lake or pond in a survival situation, but be aware that in any other case your local government may have a limit on how many you can have working a single lake.
Tip-ups have the advantage of only requiring your help to keep the ice hole clear and to pull in fish once caught. The disadvantage is that you may lose stronger fish that could have been easily caught with a manual fishing style, and tip-ups are fairly obvious indications of human presence complete with obvious flags and ringing bells. If you’re trying to be discrete and only need a few fish at a time, stick with the pole but if you need large amounts of fish tip-ups increase can vastly your catch.
Types of Tip-Ups
A beaver dam tip-up is extremely stable, but can be easy to lose if it snows over.
There are certain specific varieties that have cropped up amongst enthusiasts, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages:
Rectangular Tip-Ups (sometimes known as a Beaver Dam design) lie flat on the ice above the hole and have string wrapped around a small spool that is actually placed into the hole. As the spool turns, it loosens the flag until it tips up and alerts you. These are simple to make at home and extremely stable on the ice, but they do tend to get lost if snow actually drifts over the lake. For a preparedess minded person, they have a low profile that is easy to hide when the flag isn’t up, making them very discreet.
The rounded hole tip-up design actually fits in the hole and uses a similar spool spinning mechanism to the Rectangular tip-ups. The key difference here is that since the device itself is placed at the top of the hole it can help keep it from freezing over in the short term, though some fishermen have complained that if left for a day or more they can freeze in place overnight, making them difficult to remove without damaging them.
The “Classic” design is one that is extremely light, simple and portable. Made of three pieces of wood held together with butterfly nuts, the classic is unfolded by loosening the nuts and formed into a rough “T” shape. Rather than relying on the spinning motion of the spool, the flag is released when the line is pulled off of a hook by the fish, releasing the flag to tip-up and become visible. These are generally very cheap to purchase, easy to setup, and extremely portable. However, they can be toppled over if improperly setup and do not keep the hole clear.
Each of them has different uses and all are suitable for a survival situation. If purchasing I recommend focusing on durability since these tip-ups tend to be made of portable, light materials such as thinner wood and plastic that can break easily on lower quality models. If properly cared for, however, a durable tip-up can last for many fishing seasons and provide you with a bounty of fish.