Outdoors: Early Ice Strategies

by Steve Carney
Contributing Columnist

As we enter into the early season of ice fishing, we can expect the first few weeks to be the best action and also the time of the season to be well aware of ice conditions and take the proper precautions. In our frenzy to take advantage of the hot early action we can sometimes lose our common sense. Here are some ideas on early ice that should help increase your odds for success.

Early ice means using common sense and paying attention to conditions at hand. Photo submitted


Early ice conditions
We have finally received some colder temperatures but that doesn’t necessarily transform into good ice. I keep my early ice fishing trips close to shore and concentrate on the first hard breaks close to shoreline areas. Most lakes feature a nice bite early in December on these breaks, but they are only good for about a week or so before gamefish will move and exploit deeper water.

This first sharp break fishing is very reliable as long as you have the necessary cover ingredients such as rocks, sand and weeds. Early walleyes and panfish always congregate during early ice near these areas and I have found active gamefish in water as shallow as eight feet during December.

This is the time when most anglers are still not quite ready for fishing and the lake activity is at a minimum keeping those fish shallow. A bigger factor is an angler can stay close to shore and not risk trying to get across a large bay on ice we are not really sure about.

Walking is the best tactic early
I spend a lot of time walking to my fishing spots during December just for safety reasons. I always have my life vest on along with my ice cleats and two Philips screwdrivers around my neck just in case. These screwdrivers allow you to pierce the ice and helps lift you out in case you break through. Keep these around your neck so they are at-the-ready.

Ice cleats or cleats that conform to your boots are an outstanding idea. Even though they were made for glare ice and snowless conditions, I use them all season to give me confidence on the ice and snow and help eliminate a fall.

For $9 you have some great insurance when walking on the ice. I have confidence in my safety common sense but it’s the other guy I worry about. I often in the past walked gingerly out to my spots only to have a brazen fisherperson head out to me on his ATV. Now you are in jeopardy along with this guy. In everyone’s urgency to hit the early ice bite, anglers do some very dumb things and you have to be prepared for all scenarios.

Having a life vest, ice cleats and screwdrivers are all good insurance tactics when walking on early ice.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.

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