ice fishing early season walleyes
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Ready, Set, Go!!!!!!
by Ron Anlauf

Are you ready? Are you really ready? Getting on the ice for the first time of the season takes a little preparation, and can help ensure that a good time is had by all. Being prepared means making sure that your equipment is up to speed, and not forgetting any of the little things that may prove to be rather huge, if theyíve been left behind.

A good plan of attack would include going through a mental run down of a full day on the ice. Try to think about every move that you might make, and every piece of equipment you would need. As you do so, itíd be a good idea to write it all down, and then check it off, as you physically inventory all your gear.

If youíre venturing out on early ice, youíll probably be doing so on foot. Chances are youíll also be pulling a sled, or portable ice fishing shelter. If you have far to go, larger shelters become cumbersome rather quickly, and may keep you from fishing where and when you desire. Portable shelters, like the Otter Den, from Otter Outdoors, are small enough to be easily pulled on foot, provide plenty of room, and are quite comfortable. The sled has adequate room for accommodating all of your extra gear, including an auger, depth finder, heater, as well as rods and reels, etc.

It would be a good idea to load all of your gear in your sled, and make sure it all fits. And even if you get it all in, think about what might happen if you pull it across some rough ice, or down a hill. Does it look like it will stay put? If not, you may decide to tie it in. With a couple of eye bolts, and a rubber snubber or two, you can eliminate the risk of leaving your valuable equipment on the ice, only to find out itís gone, after youíve reached your destination.

Ice Grippers Another consideration for venturing out on foot, is traction. You might be able to get yourself across the ice just fine, with a good pair of boots, but itís a completely different story when youíre trying to pull a load, even if itís light one. With out a good pair of grippers, youíll be just spinning your wheels. The Ice Grips, are a pair of high quality ice grippers, designed for, and used by, loggers. They are of the highest quality, and easily snap on over your boots. They provide traction at both the heel and ball of the foot, and will help to keep you moving, and upright, under the slipperiest conditions.

Although early ice may mean moderate temperatures, a good heater is still a must. Even if it worked last year before you put it away for the season, it wouldnít hurt to fire it up now, just to be sure. Getting the heater lit, is another component to your fist ice checklist. Matches can get the job done, but must be kept dry. A waterproof container, like the ones designed for camping, are the ticket, and well worth a couple dollar investment. Another option is using a butane lighter, used for starting charcoal. These lighters are slick, and help to keep your hands away from the flame, and eliminate the smell of burnt hair.

As you run the first trip through your mind, youíll get to the point where you have to drill some holes. You can get by with a hand auger or even better the lightweight ice saw at first ice, as you will have little to drill through. Even so, if you drag the auger with youíll want to be sure the blades are sharp. Try dragging your thumbnail against the blade, and see if it starts to shave a little off. If it wonít, or doesnít dig in, you better have them sharpened, or replaced. If you plan on using a gas auger, check the blades, and try firing it up to make sure itís in good running order. Just remember, lighter is better and the ice saw fills this bill nicely.

You might think that having a good auger would negate the need for an ice saw or ice chisel, and maybe so. But if youíre on questionable ice, a saw or chisel may be the only good way to test ice, before proceeding on. Another use for the saw or chisel comes after youíve set up and fished for a while, and when the time to leave arrives, you find that your house is frozen down tight to the ice. The only way to get it lose is to chip it free, and you canít do that with an auger.

If youíll be using an electronic depth finder, it would be advisable to make sure the batteries are fully charged. After charging, fire it up and make sure itís operational. My Vexilar FL-8 can be read out of the water, and by simply holding the transducer a few feet off the floor, I can turn up the gain until it shows the depth, ( or height), and know that itís working properly. Donít worry that the depth doesnít correspond with the height, as sound travels at a different speed through water, than through air.

As you think about getting on the ice, consider just how bright it might be, and the fact that you better bring along a pair of sunglasses. Normark makes a high quality pair, that are inexpensive, and extremely comfortable. Between direct and reflected sunlight, you can easily burn your eyes, which can lead to long term problems.

In regards to all that sun, it would also be a good idea to bring a long some sunscreen. You might think it unnecessary, but donít be fooled. Iíve personally been burnt to a crisp, after a day on the ice, and paid the price for not screening up.

Most trips are going to include some type of live bait, heavy on the minnows. Getting bait to your intended destination alive, can be very important. Bait containers, like the cheap Styrofoam jobs, are prone to tipping over and are not very durable. A better option would be the use of a small plastic, insulated cooler, with a lid that locks securely in place. Another option would be using a water type jug, with a lid that actually screws on. They can be laid on their sides without losing any water, and can hold quite a few minnows. They also come in handy when you need to poor a little water on the ice, to read a depth finder.

To get your minnows out of the bucket, donít forget a net. Dipping your hands into ice cold water, to grab a fresh minnow, gets old fast.

Another handy item is a dry towel. When your handling a lot of fish, youíre hands can get cold and wet quickly. A simple towel can keep you dry, and keep you fishing, when frozen hands might have sent you home early.

Surely thereís more to think about, and everything hasnít been covered here, but this should help get you started. And if thereís something here that may have otherwise been forgotten, all the better.
See you on the ice.

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