Safety is the most important consideration for anyone venturing onto the ice during the winter. As a general rule, 4 inches of clear-hard "good" ice is necessary, however, 6 inches of clear-hard ice is better as ice thickness can vary. We recommended that you go with a friend, especially during the early and late ice season. A chisel or spud bar is important during the early and late ice season as it allows you to check ice as you carefully and slowly proceed onto the frozen surface. These are great tools for punching a hole through thin ice, reopening a preexisting hole drilled by another angler and can also be used as a walking stick that makes crossing slick surfaces easier. Ice picks are another good piece of equipment, which can be worn around your neck so they are readily accessible if you do go through the ice. Drive the picks into the sides of the ice or on the surface on the ice and kick your legs to pull yourself out the direction you came from. If you don't have picks you should attempt to pull yourself out by placing your elbows and arms on the ice and using a kicking motion to propel yourself onto the ice. It is important to maintain composure if you fall in and to focus your energy to get out of the water. It is extremely difficult to pull yourself out once falling through because your clothing becomes heavy, the sides of the hole are slick and difficult to grasp, and your body can go into shock as you enter the cold water (cold water shock occurs when you enter water that is 15°F or colder).
Proper Clothing is an essential aspect that all ice anglers must consider to address variable weather in Colorado. Warm boots are important and having boots with some sort of cleat or sole that makes for good traction is ideal. There are many cleat options on the market; one of the most commonly used cleat styles allows you to pull the cleats on over your boots. If your boots are not warm enough and your toes are going numb, try using a layered wool sock system (having a larger boot with more toe room can be helpful for wearing more socks and the extra space allows a warm pocket of air to form). Another alternative or addition to warm wool socks is to use toe warmers. It is important to invest in warm clothing as temperatures can vary greatly in Colorado on an hourly basis so it is always a good idea to wear multiple layers and remove them if it is too warm. Having a pair of sunglasses is important to shield your eyes from the reflected sunlight off the snow surface. Without eye protection, you may sunburn your eyes. This is known as snow blindness and can be very painful and result in temporary loss of vision due to the UV rays. Sunscreen can also be a very important item to keep in your gear bag during all times of the year. Whether it is sunny or not in Colorado, due to the elevation it can be easy to sunburn.
An ice auger is the most important piece of equipment when ice fishing (typically ranging from 6 to 10 inches in diameter). Please note that ice-fishing holes cannot exceed 10 inches in diameter or 10 inches on any side. In addition to the classic hand-auger, there is a wide variety of powered augers that use gas, propane, or rechargeable batteries. These powered augers will save you some effort on the ice but are not needed unless the ice is extremely thick which is more common in high elevation bodies of water. If you don't have an auger you can use a spud bar to make a hole in thin ice or break through a previously drilled hole on the ice. An ice scoop is important to keep your holes open and clear of snow and ice. If you are not using a GPS or a lake map, you may have to drill more holes than you expected to locate a better structure but once you find structure these spots will usually house the biggest fish in the lake/reservoir. Finally, you will need ice-fishing poles (you can use your regular reels) which are shorter than regular poles and have more sensitivity. Ice fishing poles vary in size and strength depending on the fish species you are targeting. If you are, targeting panfish an ultra-light or lightweight ice-fishing pole may be the best option. However, if you are targeting big fish like lake trout, you will need a medium-heavy or heavyweight rod.
A contour map of the lake/reservoir (keep in mind that many maps are outdated and depths are subject to change due to sediment movement and water levels) can be extremely helpful on the ice in locating an appropriate structure. A handheld GPS with topographic lake base-map can be a tremendous help in locating good fishing areas. If you cannot get your hands on either of these, you can always use a string that's knotted every foot with a weight tied to the end to get an idea of the depth you are fishing. These tools are important because, in order to pinpoint where the fish will be congregating, you need to understand the structure of the lake/reservoir bottom. One way to improve your success when ice fishing, is to drill at sticky bottoms. Sticky bottoms refer to shallows and at the edge of drop-offs where the consistency of the bottom is not too hard and not too soft/mucky. You can test this by dropping your line in with some weight and letting it hit the bottom. If you feel moderate resistance when you pull up sharply, you will know you are in the right spot. Sticky bottoms are best during early and late winter because the shallows will have vegetation that provides the fish with cover and the lake shelves will have accumulated sediment that are excellent burrowing spots for insects. Another area to find in the lake structure is to find depressions. Depressions are excellent spots during mid-winter because as it gets to the coldest point in the year, they provide fish with better light levels and warmer water. These depressions are usually 1 to 4 feet in-depth and can be anywhere from the size of a car to the size of an arena. Keep in mind that finding success in these areas can take some persistence.
A vertical presentation using jigs, shad raps, and spoons are great lures for ice fishing (try tungsten jigs which can help you get deeper with smaller jig heads). When ice fishing it is easy to get stuck in a rhythm and use one jigging cadence exclusively. Adjust your jigging cadence and try a variety of techniques to see what fish are responding to that day. Try slowly jigging the lure up and down a couple of times and then just hold it still, this change from slowly moving bait to stationary bait will oftentimes trigger a strike. Pay attention to your jigging cadences and change them frequently and this will lead to more fish on the ice! Don't be afraid to move around on the ice if you're not having success! Finally, there are some tools that make life on the ice more enjoyable (and warmer!) that anglers should consider if they are going to continue partaking in the winter recreational activity. Pulling fish through the ice is more complicated than netting them from a boat or shore and it is important to keep holes clean and clear of ice chunks and other sharp edges that could cut a fish loose. Bring the fish headfirst through the hole by grabbing it behind the head and pulling it up onto the ice. It is important to avoid touching the gills of trout as your fingers could damage them.
Shelters are another great idea and can keep you warm when it is bitter cold outside and the wind is constantly blowing. There are many different styles of shelters available on the market; flip shelters, hub shelters, insulated and non-insulated. In addition to a shelter, portable heaters for your shelter make life on the ice more enjoyable. Last but not least, a sled is another important tool that will help with carrying all the gear!
- Fishing license (required)
rod stamp (optional)
- Winter clothing (beanie, facemask, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, etc.)
- Warm boots (preferably with cleats or a cleat covers)
- Collapsible chair or 5-gallon bucket (good for carrying your fish out or other smaller tools)
- Spud bar/Ice chisel/Ice picks
- Depth finder/Contour map/Graph/Flasher
- Auger (gas, propane, electric, or hand powered)
Equipment (baits, lures, poles, weights, pliers, line, etc.)
- Ice Scoop
Check out this link to an article written by Terry Wickstrom about “How to get started in ice fishing”!