The 10 Commandments Of Ice Fishing In Minnesota + Wisconsin
Winters in the Upper Midwest are long, cold, and make it far too easy for some people to sequester in their homes for a large part of the year. While southerners might give folks "up north" the side-eye over willingly spending time on a frozen body of water, it's a fun way to pass the winter months. Plus, what is better than a fresh-caught fish dinner?
Anyone who has ever been ice fishing before will readily admit there is sort of an unwritten "code of conduct" most ice anglers follow. Some of those unwritten rules are related to safety, while others are out of respect for our fellow ice fisherpeople to make sure we all enjoy our time on the lake.
While these aren't the only rules to abide by (see your local Minnesota or Wisconsin DNR regulations, for example), I feel like these 10 guidelines go a long way toward making sure you and other ice anglers have an enjoyable hardwater experience.
The 10 Commandments Of Ice Fishing In Minnesota & Wisconsin
I. Thou shalt always check ice thickness
You've likely heard it said many times - Never assume any ice is safe ice. Unfortunately, not every dangerous ice spot is labeled with a sign. Ice conditions can change based on a number of factors, even from one day to the next. Always be safe and smart about knowing ice thickness, always have ice picks with you, and be sure to follow other ice safety guidelines.
II. Thou shalt enjoy your time with snacks and beverages
Whatever your idea is of a perfect ice fishing snack or beverage, don't forget to bring some along! Extra handy, if it is an item better-served cold, stick some in the snow or just leave it sitting out, and it'll be as cold as it is outside in no time.
III. But, thou must also bring your trash back home with you
Don't be a slob. Whether beverage cans/bottles, food wrappers, or even packaging from a new fishing lure, don't leave your trash on the lake. Your mom isn't going to clean up after you, and that junk will just end up in the lake when the ice melts, ruining a lake you previously enjoyed fishing on.
Pro tip: Bring a bag with you for garbage when you head out, so you have a place to put your trash. Also, remember that on a big, open body of water, the wind can kick up and blow your trash away. Get it corralled before the wind takes it away.
IV. Thou shalt not crowd thy fellow anglers
Don't be that person that drives or walks right up to someone else's fishing spot and drill a hole right next to them. Besides being a little annoying to the person that was already there, if you're drilling holes near someone else's fishing house, it could flood the ice near their house, making things messy in the short term and making house removal tougher down the road.
V. Thou shalt not ask what thy limit is (you should already know it)
We've all been there. The fish start biting, and we ask our fishing buddies "what's the limit?" Then the fish promptly shut off for the rest of the day, and that limit ends up not mattering at all.
Aside from this bit of fishing superstition, before heading out to a new body of water, it's a good idea to make sure there aren't any special slot/bag limits or other special regulations for that lake. A number of lakes or regions can have specialized rules, and you don't want to be caught not knowing about them. Regulations can even change from year to year on the same lake, so taking a quick peek at the regulations at the beginning of the season for your favorite lake is a good idea.
VI. Thou shalt have a bathroom plan
If you're spending a sizable amount of time on the lake, do you have some kind of plan of nature calls? This takes a different form for every person, their needs, and their comfort level. It's just a good idea to have some kind of a plan so you aren't in a panic or rushing off the lake when that need comes up.
VII. Thou shalt have an awareness of your bait/tackle supply before hitting the lake
Nothing is worse than getting on the lake and realizing you forgot the bait, don't have your ice auger with you, or don't have the right tackle for the fish you're targeting. Before making the journey onto the ice, double-check that you have all of the necessities to get the fish you're after.
VIII. Thou shalt block up thy house & monitor weather conditions
Every year, I see frustrated anglers with chisels, saws, weed burners, and other tools, trying to free their expensive ice house from the lake. Frozen in by slush or water that found its way on top of the ice, this can be a very frustrating and time-consuming prospect.
Putting your house up on some kind of wood blocks and banking the house with snow is one way I've seen people combat this. Another pro tip is to watch the weather. If there's a snowstorm on the way and you're not using it, pulling the fish house off the lake (at least until you're going to use it again) might be a good idea. That snow is going to put extra weight on the ice, likely flooding the lake. Then, as it often happens after a snowstorm, it'll get cold and freeze your house into the slushy water left behind from the lake flooding.
IX. For the spearing folks - Thou shalt mark your hole when you're done
This is a smaller segment of the audience of folks targeting fish on lakes - If you cut a spearing hole, be sure to mark it in some way when you're done, so other people on the lake don't accidentally walk or drive right into the hole you left behind. I've most often seen this done with a tree branch or two. Which, if you see that on a lake and don't know what it means, that's likely the case.
X. Have fun!
No matter what kind of fishing you're doing, there's a lot of fun to be had! Whether the motivation is spending time with friends or family, the thrill of a big catch, or a meal of fresh fish, ice fishing is a tradition that offers a lot to love! Being safe, respecting your fellow anglers, and following guidelines like the ones above are a great way to make sure it's enjoyable for everyone.
Tight lines, everyone!