The sport of ice fishing is yet another outdoor activity that has picked up in popularity as people seem to be seeking alternative pastimes these days.
Aaron McKinney, manager of the Iowa Outdoor Store in Fort Dodge, said they are beginning to see a shortage of ice fishing equipment available for this year.
“We are getting a little short on stuff because we have seen many, many more ice fishermen this year – along with open water fishing – due to the pandemic. People are looking for something to do. I would say ice fishing equipment sales have almost doubled,” he said.
What to know about ice
Up until the past few days, Iowa temperatures have remained mild. Due to that, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is advising people to be cautious and aware of ice thicknesses.
Ben Wallace, Iowa DNR fisheries management biologist, who helps to manage public fishing waters in 12 counties including Webster County, said most of the public waterbodies in his district are seeing six to eight inches of good ice, whereas typically, by this time of year we are seeing 15 to 16 inches of ice.
“When I say good ice, I am talking about clear, solid ice – not cloudy or slushy,” he said. “When you see cloudy ice, a lot of time it has a lot of air in it, so it is not as strong.”
General guidelines for ice that Wallace and the Iowa DNR recommend for being out on good, clear ice include:
• Four inches, minimum is suitable for walking on
• Five inches, minimum for snowmobiles or ATVs
• Eight to 12 inches of good ice is suitable for small vehicles
• 12-15 inches for medium sized trucks
Wallace said it is also important to remember the thickness of one area of the lake may not be the same elsewhere.
“We see that a lot on these larger lakes,” he said. “They will have nice, good quality ice in one spot, but as you move across the lake you will find an area that are only a couple of inches thick, or the ice is very soft or weak.”
There could be a variety of factors causing those inconsistencies, so Wallace suggests stopping to drill a hole and checking the thickness of the ice as you travel to your ideal fishing spot.
Although Wallace and other Iowa DNR officials release weekly fishing reports that often include ice conditions, it is imperative to check the ice for yourself.
“It is the responsibility of the angler to check the ice before they go out and check it often,” he said.
In addition to being aware of the thickness and condition of the ice, there are other things an ice fisherman can do to ensure their safety.
“There is some basic equipment you should take with you that can really help keep you safe and that are things like a life jacket or a float coat or suit; a rope or another floatation device and a set of ice picks – these would be if you were to fall through, you hold them in your hand and dig them into the ice to pull yourself out,” said Wallace. “Just do not go out alone. Go with somebody. Or, at the very least, tell somebody where you’re going and what time you plan to be back.”
Hook, line and sinker
McKinney said although supplies may be running a little short, the store still has a wide range of ice fishing equipment available – for the beginner up to the skilled ice fisherman.
To get started, McKinney suggests trying to find someone that already has a lot of ice fishing equipment, go out with them and see if you are willing to make the investment.
McKinney said really all a beginner would need includes an ice fishing rod and reel; tungsten jigs; a hand held ice auger and a bucket.
“If you want to go very simple and very inexpensive, you can do it for under $100 if you wanted to,” he said.
Some may be turned off from ice fishing because of the cold weather, but McKinney said you will be surprised, it really isn’t that bad
“Once everything is set up, I sit in the ice fishing tent in a sweatshirt and bib overalls. It is very comfortable and you can catch a lot of fish. You wouldn’t think you can, but you really can,” he said.
However, just like open water fishing, they don’t bite every time.
“Be patient, be prepared to try different spots, too,” he said. “I think ice fishing takes a little more patience, but when you hook a good fish, a four, five or six pound walleye, you are bringing it up on three to four pound test line on a rod that’s tiny, so it takes a little bit of talent and you have to bring the fish through an eight inch hole. I think there is a little more to ice fishing, but that’s why I enjoy it.”
Where to go
One doesn’t have to travel very far for some quality ice fishing.
“In Webster County alone, you have quite a bit of diversity to go after,” said Wallace. “Moorland Pond, Badger Lake and Brushy Creek – those would be my top three picks for ice fishing in Webster County. They have different habitats to fit and they all offer some different types of fishing. Not every county has that.”
Wallace said if you head to Badger Lake at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, you can expect to catch blue gill and crappie. At Brushy Creek Lake there are blue gill, crappie, yellow perch and walleye.
Moorland Pond offers some of those same pan fish like blue gill, crappie and perch, but also something different than any other waterbodies in the area.
“What is unique about Moorland Pond is we stock trout into it during the wintertime,” said Wallace. “Moorland Pond has rainbow trout. Normally, to go trout fishing, you have to visit northeast Iowa.”
McKinney spoke in high regards of Webster County’s Brushy Creek.
“We have one of the better lakes in the area. I know it gets a lot of pressure, but there are a lot of fish in that lake,” he said.
McKinney said Moorland Pond, because it is annually stocked with trout, is also a fun place to ice fish.
“The nice thing when you go out to Moorland Pond, just about any bait works from minnows, to spikes to wax worms – a lot of those fish were raised in captivity, so they’re fed, they will bite on about anything, but they still fight and they are fun to catch,” he said.
Wallace said success can all be in the timing.
“In general, if you want to maximize, or increase your odds catching something, the low light hours always seem to be the best,” he said. “That is early in the morning as the sun is coming out for the next couple hours and also in the evening – get out there and fish while the sun is setting.”
Fisherman 16 and over require a fishing license. Wallace said fishing licenses are available at most convenience stores and WalMart as well as online by visiting the Iowa DNR website and downloading the DNR app.
One thing to note for those fishing the Moorland Pond for trout will need a trout stamp in addition to a regular fishing license.