Ice fishing season in full swing

Published 10:26 am Thursday, January 9, 2014

A basic ice fishing set-up with a tip-up. (Submitted photo)

A basic ice fishing set-up with a tip-up. (Submitted photo)

With the arctic temperatures that have descended upon Michiana in the last month or so, ice fishing shanties are popping up on many inland lakes.

Passersby, searching for some winter fun of their own, may think, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” But how can a novice get into a sport that seems to take a lot of gear and know-how?

“You could come in here never having fished before, and you could leave here ready to fish,” said Randy “R.J.” Jesensky, a manager at Lunker’s. “The employees here could set you up and tell you which lakes have easy access.”

“One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Lunker’s is that all of our employees do fish or hunt, so we can relate to customers,” Jesensky said of the tackle store located at 26324 U.S. 12 in Edwardsburg, Mich.

While many hard-core ice fishermen have shanties with all of the comforts of home, one need only purchase a few items in order to get started in the sport.

“Really, it doesn’t take that much,” said Capt. Todd Brill, a professional fishing guide from St. Joseph, Mich. “To start out ice fishing, you just need a very simple rod and reel , a small amount of tackle, an auger, a spud, a few baits and a spoon or ladle, and you’re out ice fishing.”

“You’ll want to have a good pair of boots and dress appropriately for it. Being warm out there is critical, especially if you’re going to take kids,” said Brill. “You want it to be a good experience, so make it as easy on yourself as possible.”

Lunker’s carries both the cold-weather clothing and all the gear that anglers need to head out on the ice.

“Most people either have an ice suit or insulated bib overalls or a snowmobile outfit,” Jesensky said. “A lot of people wear pack boots. They’re rated to 40 or 50 degrees below zero.”

“To get started in the fishing process, the first thing you would need to have is something to drill a hole in the ice,” Jesensky said. “We have drills that start in the $60 range.”

“I would say that’s probably your biggest investment, an auger—or drill,” Brill noted.

“You could even use a spud to cut a hole. Basically, it’s just a piece of flatiron with a beveled point,” Jesensky said. “Most people who fish a lot don’t do that. They’ll use it to test the ice thickness when they’re going out on the ice.”

“After you drill your hole, there’s a lot of chips and shavings left in the hole, so you use one of these ladles to strain the ice out,” Jesensky said.

After the hole in the ice has been drilled, it’s time to fish. And, when it comes to gear, there are options to fit any budget.

“To go fishing with your kids, you can buy something as simple as an outfit that comes complete with a jig, the reel, and the pole. It’s got a spring bobber on it. It’s all ready to fish. This one is $12,” Jesensky said. “Old-fashioned tip-ups start at $8.”

When it comes to the tackle, ice fisherman usually use a jig, which is a lead-weighted hook tipped with a spike or a waxworm, an ice fly or a hook tipped with a minnow.

“There’s a whole assortment of jigs,” Jesensky said. “There are just so many options you can go with.”

Beyond the basic gear, both Jesensky and Brill mentioned several elements that are crucial for safety out on the ice: polar picks, boot spikes, and most importantly, knowledge of the ice conditions. A tackle store like Lunker’s can provide all three.

“Polar picks are something so small, but they can save your life. You can wear these around your neck, and if you happen to fall through the ice, you can use these to pull yourself out,” Jesensky said.

“These can also be made by tying two screwdrivers onto the ends of a parachute cord, and you wear it around your neck,” Brill said. “I would also suggest having some spikes that just snap onto your boots. It can be very slippery out on the ice.”

Finally, it is essential to know which lakes—and even which parts of a lake—are safe.

“Typically, you want to see 5 inches of ice out there. You can get out on less, but without any experience, it’s better to be safe,” Brill said. “If you go to a lake that already has a bunch of people out fishing on it, then you know the ice is safe. You can also check the Michigan DNR’s website for ice reports.”

Another website that some fishermen check is

“This year, most of the lakes are safe, but there are some that I wouldn’t venture out on. Use caution,” said Butch Taylor, a fishing specialist at Lunker’s. “Like Birch Lake—that’s 80 foot of water. If there are no tracks going out there, and there’s not activity, then you want to check it with a spud.”

“Some lakes have springs. It could be 6 inches of ice here, and you go 20 feet over, and there’ll be only 2 inches,” Jesensky added.

As long as safety is taken into consideration, ice fishing can add a whole new level of fun to the long Michiana winters.

“You can target all species of fish, and it’s something you can do after work,” Brill said. “You get out of work at 5 o’clock. On your way home, you pick up a couple dozen minnows, meet your buddies with a lantern out there on the ice, and you can catch crappie all night long. It’s a blast!”