OUTDOORS: Try ice fishing – well, maybe next year

BILL WEHRLE, C-T Outdoors Sports Editor
Bill Wehrle column

By BILL WEHRLE, C-T Outdoors Sports Editor 

It’s been quite a few winters since this north Missouri area had cold enough weather long enough to produce suitable ice on lakes and ponds for ice fishing, but the recent bitter weather, although now departed, seemed to do just that on many area smaller bodies of water for a week or so.

While it did, it stirred up some interest in “hard water” fishing which might carry over to next winter, if we get hit by another extended arctic blast.

Although similar, ice fishing techniques are somewhat different than warm water fishing. What works in summer won’t be the best approach through ice.

First and most important, you must check the ice for thickness and stability. Four inches of ice usually is sufficient to support a person, but there can be thin spots and some ice is less stable than other ice.

There can be air pockets and areas where, for some reason, the water doesn’t freeze as thickly. Check carefully and stay near shore until you’re sure the lake or pond is frozen uniformly and is solid enough to support you. Even then, it’s not a bad idea to fish with a partner, so help is available, if needed.

You can use an ax to cut a hole to fish through, but an ice auger is handier. Carry a bucket to sit on and carry your gear, and wear insulated boots (your feet will be first to get cold) that provide good traction.  

Once you’re sure about the ice, you need to locate fish.

Wintertime fish congregate near cover or structures like brush piles, standing trees, or weed lines and in water at least six feet deep, so start in these areas.

Bluegill and crappie are popular catches, but bass and catfish also can be taken through the ice. Once you catch a fish, stay in that area as they will be schooled and you should be able to catch several.

Small jigs tipped with waxworms are good bait, so drop them down to the bottom through the hole you’ve cut and slowly work the bait upward to find the depth where the fish are holding.

Use light rods with light line and move the lure and bait slowly and jig it up and down. The fish will bite slowly, so give them plenty of time to mouth the bait and take it. A 4- or 6-inch (in diameter) hole is plenty big for panfish; any opening bigger that that could be stepped in and cause a problem.

So, if we get socked real hard by Old Man Winter again next winter and you are looking for some outdoors fun, remember these measures and ideas and maybe try ice fishing.

In case you’ve forgotten, your annual fishing, hunting, trout fishing and combination hunting-and-fishing permits expired at the end of February, so it’s time to get your 2021 licenses before you head out to engage in any other hunting or fishing activity. Don’t be embarrassed by having only an expired permit to show the conservation agent!  

You can get your 2021 permits at one of the many license vendors around the state, online at mdc.mo.gov/buypermits, or through the Missouri Department of Conservation’s free mobile apps – MO Hunting and MO Fishing, available for download through Google Play for Android devices or the App Store for Apple devices.

Commercial and lifetime permits can be purchased only through the MDC Permit Services Unit by calling 573-522-0107 for an application.

Get your new permits and go outdoors to have some late-winter fun!

(Bill Wehrle’s outdoors sports column appears in the Constitution-Tribune each Saturday.)