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Bill Hilts Jr.: Get ready to drop a line when the ice finally arrives

New York’s ice fishing season should almost be here if you look on the calendar.  Unseasonably warm temperatures have delayed the inevitable for Western New York. Walking on (hard) water is a great winter pastime once water eventually turns to ice. The big question for many is how do you get started?

“Today’s technology offers opportunities like never before,” says ice fishing expert Scott Brauer of Gasport. “The Internet is a great way to find out what you need to do to get started. Hop on YouTube and search for ice fishing tutorials. Go onto the Ice Team website ( to find a long list of other videos and articles on various aspects of ice fishing – learning from some of the best in the business. And once you are in tune with ice fishing and want to expand your knowledge, social networking has allowed the angling fraternity to keep better informed – real time – than ever before. Follow people on Facebook and Twitter who have legitimate information to share and it will keep you up to date on where, when and how the bite is going for numerous bodies of water.”


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“Ice fishing is a brother and sisterhood of sorts,” insists Brauer, a teacher at the Niagara Career and Tech Center through BOCES in Sanborn. “If you are just starting out, feel free to talk openly to people on the ice – it’s very social in nature, people helping people for a common good. My experience is that ice fishermen are always willing to help one another.”

With that in mind, getting started can be as easy as picking up an inexpensive rod and reel, some bait, a cheap ice auger (or not, taking advantage of someone else’s equipment or using existing holes), an inexpensive skimmer to remove ice from the hole, a bucket or some type of a seat to be comfortable on, layered clothing to keep warm and some safety gear like a personal flotation device and a set of ice picks to help in one of those extreme emergency situations. Those are some of the basics, but you can also go much bigger if your wallet will allow.

Scott Brauer of Gasport (R) hoists up a nice crappie with ice fishing legend Dave Genz of Minnesota looks on.

Scott Brauer of Gasport (R) hoists up a nice crappie with ice fishing legend Dave Genz of Minnesota looking on.

“To get started, find a spot that has a lot of fish in it,” says Brauer, New York’s Ice Team pro staffer. “Even if the fish are small, you want to catch fish, especially with the kids. The more you do it, the more success you will have and the more you’ll want to do it again. Stay where everyone else is fishing, too. Don’t venture off on your own if you are new to a body of water and stay away from anything that looks wet – there could be a hidden spring that could create a problem for you.

“The rod and reel doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. I would recommend something from the HT Enterprises Ice Blue line of rods (HTIB 18 or 24) with a light tip or a spring bobber with light line. A spring bobber will allow you to see those light hits as you come to understand how those fish will grab hold of your bait. As far as bait, I would recommend a combination of live bait and plastics. Understanding what’s happening in any given body of water will allow you to ‘match the hatch’ with your bait presentation. Wax worms and spikes are both popular, as are blood worms on occasion. The plastics will help to imitate the aquatic insects, too.”

When Brauer is talking plastics, he’s primarily talking about Maki Plastics, a company he started up back in 1998 and became incorporated in 2006. “It started out as a class project in my Project Based Engineering class in BOCES. It’s an aquatic insect-based company that has become national and international right out of Gasport in Niagara County. We’re co-branded with the Clam Corporation and that has allowed us to take it to the next level.”

Getting back to this cold weather sport, make sure you dress for the part. Layer your clothing so that you can adjust accordingly as far as warmth. Wear your personal flotation device inside your jacket to take advantage of the extra warmth and to always keep safety in mind. Wear warm and comfortable socks and boots, too. Comfort is an important key. Bring along something to sit on to add to that comfort level. Eventually as you progress in the ice fishing world, you’ll want to get some sort of a protective tent, a sled to haul your equipment out and a quality ice auger that can do the job for you.

Brauer is New York State's Ice Team professional and is involved with an extensive array of ice fishing education.

Brauer is New York State's Ice Team professional and is involved with an extensive array of ice fishing education.

As you get more involved with the sport, electronics – including depth finders and underwater cameras – can take you to a new level that’s both fun and educational. They can help you to locate depth contours, drop-offs, weed lines and where the fish are holding. At times with underwater cameras you can even witness how fish are reacting to your bait offerings.

“Find some sort of a clinic that you can take advantage of such as special events like the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo that’s going on Jan. 20-22  at the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls,” said Brauer. “This year we will be featuring the Northeast Ice (Fishing) Jam during the Expo to get more people on the ice.” Brauer is leading the charge with Clam Outdoors to educate the general public on both a local and regional level to help expand their awareness of ice fishing through education. Check out for details.

Walking on water can be great fun for the entire family, a wintry way to explore different parts of a lake that you might not have access to if you don’t own a boat. However, if you do own a boat and you know where some spots are productive time and time again, you might be that far ahead in getting started. Get out there and try something a little different.

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