The Wide, Wide World of Ice Fishing
Here's a Look at How Ice Anglers Practice a Minnesota Tradition.
Photography By Bill Lindner
Text By Roland Sigurdson
What force could possibly rouse Minnesotans from the warmth of their homes in winter and lure them out into the cold? Could it be the thrill of the biting north wind? The refreshing sting of snow pellets on the face? No, most likely it is the need to socialize with other hardy Minnesotans, a chance to shake off cabin fever, and the thought of a fresh fish dinner-in other words, ice fishing.
Still, one might ask: What allure of a frozen lake gets a person to peer down a hole in the ice for hours? Perhaps it is the silence of a winter day, the pale sun dancing off the snow, as well as the camaraderie of friends and the anticipation of pulling a living creature out of this seemingly frozen world.
Traditionally, people used long chisels to chip a hole in the ice. The invention of the hand ice auger in the 1940s made this chore more pleasant.
The frozen willow stick, an early version of a tip-up, anchors in frozen slush with the smaller tip centered over the hole. If a fish hits, a rubber band at the tip pops off, letting you know you've got a fish.
For a jigging pole, an angler puts on a flashy lure and tips it with a bit of bait, then "jigs" the line up and down to lure the fish.
As the fish makes off with the bait, the wooden spool spins, causing the bead or bells to rattle, hence the name rattle reel.
Spearing fish is as ancient as ice fishing itself. Aboriginal peoples worldwide have used spears to capture fish. The modern spear is more elaborate, but the thrill of seeing a fish come to your decoy is just as exciting today.
Because crappies move around in winter, they can be tricky to find. When you do find them, the action can be fantastic. Try a minnow or wax worm on a jigging pole.
Lakes stocked with rainbow trout are scattered around the state. Trout eat smaller critters in winter, so use a small jig tipped with a Eurolarva (maggot) or wax worm.
Yellow perch, found in many soft-water lakes in the state's northern half, may bite best late in the season. Try a Swedish pimple lure tipped with a small minnow.
To catch tullibees, use flashy lures and do a lot of jigging. They feed on mayfly larvae and zooplankton, so try a small teardrop lure below a large spoon.
One great appeal of ice fishing is socializing. Shantytowns spring up, and fishing neighbors trade great stories. Despite the image of anglers being pretty tight-lipped about their hot spots and tricks, many wise winter anglers will happily share a few tips.
Bill Lindner is a nationally recognized outdoor photographer. A longtime supporter of the Conservation Volunteer, he has collaborated on stories from dog sledding, to trout fishing, to holiday wild foods. Roland Sigurdson is an education specialist for MinnAqua, the DNR's aquatic education and angling program. He has been an ice angler since age 10.