In my last column, we spoke about the need for safety on the ice, the required 4-inch minimal thickness, and several other components that make an ice-fishing venture safe.
Unfortunately, since that last column, famous ice fishing guide, Jim Hudson, who I saw on cable recently, died tragically when his snowmobile went through the ice on Lake Superior while guiding a party. Hudson was a well-liked and respected guide with tons of experience and credentials.
The ice is unforgiving, and does not discriminate when it comes to tragedy. By the time you read this, the little bit of safe-ice we had locally will likely be dangerous.
Trips to Deep Creek Lake and up-state Pennsylvania venues will provide safe ice opportunities for the remainder of the winter season.
For much of the Mid-Atlantic, the use of hand augers are much more cost efficient and will easily get you through 10 inches of ice. Any thicker ice will need a gas-powered auger that can cost up to $500, depending on the make and model and auger bit size.
I have used a Jiffy 6-inch diameter offset hand auger for the past many years and have had no problem with it. They are made in various diameters from 6 to 10 inches.
But you can get a pretty big fish through a 6-inch hole. A good, serviceable hand auger can be purchased for $50 to $70 and should last a lifetime in our region.
They usually come with an extra set of blades and a hard plastic cover is provided to protect the razor-sharp blades from nicks or dulling.
Be careful not to use these tools too close to bridges, where not only thin-ice conditions could prevail, but also cinders may have washed in off of the road surfaces, causing damage to the blades. Always drill forward, never backward.
Additionally, you will need an ice ladle that will scoop out the ice chips that form in the hole after you drill. Clear them out and keep the hole open as needed.
RODS AND REELS
Although some anglers prefer to use tip-ups that are stationary and have a 'flag' that sets off when a strike occurs, I have always prefered to utilize short jigging rods with wire-tip strike indicators that move at the slightest touch of a lethargic winter panfish. For years, many anglers simply used old tip sections of discarded rods as a makeshift ice rod.
However, todays ice fishing boom in the mid west and upper eastern states are superior in action and durability. Companies like Frabill, HT, Jiffy and Clam offer rods, reels and specific 'ice fishing line' that will fit any venue on the hard water.
Custom rods are designed for specific species: panfish, walleyes, lake trout and others.
Lines should be light if your goal is bluegills and crappie - two of the most co-operative winter species. I like Trout Magnets SOS clear and Stren Gold in 2-pound strengths.
The gold line became a favorite of mine a few seasons ago when I found that I could easily see light bites and side movement when a fish took the bait. If you plan on jigging for yellow perch or walleye then you may want to up the line to six-pound test.
Perch and 'eyes often school together and the heavier line will give you a shot at landing a 5 pound walleye - a fish you'll want to get through the hole.
Probably the most important tackle option is the use of a wire strike indicator that can be attached to the rod-tip and clearly shows those soft striking crappies and bluegills. You can buy these or make your own.
I prefer to make mine out of guitar strings that are .18 to .24 gauge. I epoxy a small, bright plastic bead at the end of a small loop and wrap and coat the wire onto the rod-tip as a permanent strike indicator.
If you are doing the panfish gig, which is the staple for ice anglers, then most small ultralight spinning reels with a good drag system will do. The same reel you use in warm weather should be fine.
LURES AND BAITS
For good search and attraction lures, I favor spoons like Kastmasters, Swedish Pimples or Blue Fox Rattle Flash in sizes 1/12 to 1/8 of an ounce. Remove the factory treble hooks and replace with single hooks that are provided with these lures.
Single hooks simply hook and hold more fish. Tip the spoon with either a wax worm, mealworm or Euorolarva maggots for added attraction.
For picky bluegills, we use 1/80-ounce teardrop jigs or fluorescent jigheads and tip them with the same baits. Tungsten has been the recent rage of the ice fishing community, with its claims of a faster sink rate per size, as compared to lead. Be assured that any lure this small will sink slowly through the water column to get to the bottom, even in 6 feet or shallower.
Sometimes we use a small spoon as a dropper and put the jig 10 to 12 inches above it. All lures are tied directly to the line.
And the simple tactic of jigging these lure options 6 inches to 12 inches off the bottom is the standard for most species, in most situations.
In recent years, I have wrestled with the desire to buy a portable sonar unit, such as those from Vexilar or Marcum that would tell me exactly what is below and if it is interested in my lure. However, with the lack of safe ice conditions in the Mason Dixon area, on a year to year basis, I find it hard to spring for the 400 dollar expense.
Until then, I'll just fish 'blind' and catch what I can.