“Walk on Water” isn’t just a rock song by Eddie Money in the 1980s. It also can refer to a popular outdoor activity that takes place wherever the water turns solid from below freezing temperatures … and you can literally “walk on water.” Ice fishing season is finally here.
Getting started can be as easy as picking up a 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. That’s some of the basics, but you also can get much more involved with the equipment if you have the desire … and the cash.
“Ice fishing is a brother and sisterhood of sorts,” insists Scott Brauer of Gasport. He should know. He probably has a little bit of ice flowing through his veins as New York’s Ice Team Pro for Clam Outdoors. “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.”
At the top of your ice bucket list needs to be safety. Four inches of ice is generally considered safe for foot traffic.
“If you can’t get through the ice with three or four whacks using a 10-pound spud bar, you should be okay,” Brauer said. Make sure you dress for the part, too. And keep an extra set of dry clothes in the car.
“Float suits are a great investment, especially first ice and last ice. Mustang suits are still a good buy."
It’s not a bad idea to throw on a life jacket if you are unsure about the conditions, venturing into a new area or just looking for some added bulk for warmth.
When taking your ice fishing to the next level, and you start using things like snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles to get you to your spots (at least 6 to 8 inches of ice is recommended for those modes of transport), there are emergency floating devices that can help save your machines if you break through. Nebulus offers ice travelers an emergency flotation device that can save the day. It inflates like an emergency raft by pulling a cord, igniting a carbon dioxide cartridge. Check out nebulusflotation.com for details.
“The rod and reel combination don’t have to be anything elaborate. My favorite rod right now is a Jason Mitchell ‘Dead Meat Series’ rod that’s light enough for crappies and bluegills, but strong enough for bigger fish. It’s also a perfect match for a Piscifun ICX5 ice spinning reel," Brauer said. "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. That’s part of the fun of ice fishing. Continue to change up your presentation until you figure out what the fish want on any given time or day.”
When Brauer is talking plastics, he’s primarily talking about Maki Plastics, a company he started 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.”
“Today’s technology offers opportunities like never before,” said Brauer, a teacher at the Niagara Career and Tech Center through BOCES in Sanborn. “The internet is a great way to find out what you need to do to get started."
Brauer suggested hopping on YouTube and searching ice fishing education for panfish, for instance. Numerous videos can instruct you on how to catch the fish through ice. Other videos and articles on various aspects of ice fishing can be found at the Ice Team website.
"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," he said. "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.”
Ice Fishing Fanatics is a good Facebook page, but another outlet is iceshanty.com.
“When getting started, find a spot that has a lot of fish in it,” Brauer said. “Even if the fish are small, you want to catch fish in places like Sodus Bay off Lake Ontario. Catching fish is important, 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. Start on a body of water you can be successful on. And stay where everyone else is fishing. 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.”
Of course, knowing that there are fish there helps, too. 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 locate depth contours, drop-offs, weed lines and where the fish are holding. At times with underwater cameras, you can witness how fish are reacting to your bait offerings. Brauer also was high on Navionics, a mapping system with an app for your phone. It’s a perfect way to identify some of the important pinch points formed by structure, underwater islands and other fish-holding locations.
Brauer noted that there has been a big push to form Ice Team Kids, like what they do for adults. This is run by kids, for kids, taking a page out of the high school and college bass fishing teams.
“We need to get their attention earlier,” Brauer said.
Another good resource to get started with ice fishing is a new educational guide at the state Department of Environmental Conservation website. You also can take advantage of special events like the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo on Jan. 18-20, 2019, at the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls.
Brauer is leading the charge to educate the general public on a local and regional level to help expand their awareness of how to “walk on water” through education.