Early Ice Fishing
Early ice can provide some of the best ice-fishing action around. The most important thing to remember when early ice fishing is to first check to make sure the ice is really safe. To review, the Minnesota DNR offers the following ice safety guidelines. The measurements here apply only to NEW, CLEAR SOLID ICE. White Ice, or "Snow Ice" is only about half as strong as new clear ice, so double the thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.
2" or less: Stay off
4": Ice fishing or other activities on foot
5": Snowmobile or ATV
8"-12": Car or small pickup
12"-15": Medium Truck
Once you’re sure it's safe on your lake of choice, keep as quiet and still as possible once you get on the ice. Later in the season it’s a good idea to keep moving in search of active fish. But early in the season, if you know there are fish in the area, it’s often better to sit and wait for the fish to come to you. When the ice is still relatively thin, and especially when there’s no snow on it, the fish can easily see you moving around right above them. Fish that are spooked by such movement won’t be interested in eating. Many ice anglers choose to fish from a portable shelter, which can really assist in preventing the fish from seeing them.
In many bodies of water early in the season, anglers do a lot of sight fishing. It’s fun to watch the fish come up and look at your bait, then eat it. But if they're swimming away more often than they’re eating, you need to make some adjustments to your presentation.
If you know you’re going to be sight fishing, tie on some light line. Light line allows tiny baits to be presented more naturally, and it’s harder for the fish to see. More and more, anglers are turning to Trilene Fluorocarbon in two pound test for line-sensitive panfish. When the fish are finicky, small baits will usually work best. There's a greater selection of smaller baits and jigs available every year, and that’s because they catch fish.
So get your ice fishing gear ready, keep the above tips in mind, and get out there as soon as the ice is safe. Good luck!
- Josh Stevenson