By Scott Olson | November 16, 2022
With the waters of the Ice Belt beginning to freeze over or getting close to it, we are well on our way to putting boots on ice in the near future. As excited as we all get once we see the thermometer drop and hear about those first ice reports (I being one of them), as the saying goes, "No fish is worth going through the ice for." Nearly every state outdoor agency recommends at least four inches of good ice be on the lakes before we set foot out onto them.
Before you start looking to hit the ice, it’s best to start going through your gear to make sure that, not only are your rods, reels, tackle, etc. are ready, but that you are up to speed with the proper early ice safety gear as well. Early ice prep can go a long way to keeping you both organized and safe once that magical ice thickness hits the right mark.
By late October, I’ve paired ice rods to reels and have re-strung them all with fresh line for the start of the season. For the most part, I’m using Piscifun ICX-5 spinning reels as they’ve proven to me over the last few years to be one of the best ice spinning reels on the market, but I also spool up the ICX-Precision and ICX-Carbon inline reels that Piscifun carries for those shallow panfish days on early ice or when the pannies are being extra finnicky throughout the season. Inline reels prevent most line twisting so baits hang in a natural position and don’t spin like smaller jigs can do when using spinning reels and these two inlines have been the best ones I’ve used. Once all reels are rigged and tackle has been checked, it’s time to move onto the most important part of those early ice trips.
Ice safety during the early ice time should absolutely be the #1 priority when planning begins. It is important to make sure you have the proper safety tools and have prepared for the worst in case it does actually happen. Be sure to review safety videos on how to get out of the water should you fall in. There are dozens of videos online that show proper ways to get yourself out of the water and back to safety. I always watch these a few times for a quick refresher on proper water exiting techniques as well how to remain calm and not panic if it ever occurs. Pack a spare set of clothes in your vehicle and keep them there all season, even when the ice is over a foot thick. You just never really know for sure after all if you might need it or maybe someone else may need it. When hitting the ice, there are three must have items to use—ice picks, float suits (or life jacket), and a spud bar. Ice picks are probably the cheapest life insurance you can ever buy. Float suits (or a life jacket) are probably the best way to ensure you won’t sink if you ever fall through the ice and have a chance to get out of the water. These suits are definitely a wise investment if you don’t have one. Using a spud bar is the best way to check the ice in front of you as you walk out. But probably the most important thing to remember is NEVER go out on first ice by yourself. Having a buddy with you could save your life if you were to break through. They could help pull you out, or at the very least, call for help if needed. Bring a safety rope with you. I use a safety rope made by Clam that’s specifically made for ice fishing and I’d recommend it to everyone on the ice.
We’re all excited to get back on the hardwater. Those early ice days can be some of the best bites we have all year round. Early season preparation keeps our equipment ready to go as soon as we feel safe to get on the ice. But being safe on early ice needs to the top priority and that means making sure we have the proper gear to ensure that, if the worst should happen, we are able to get out and get back home. As said before, no fish is worth going through the ice for.
Enjoy the early ice season and be safe out there!