As we begin the new year, subzero temperatures have blanketed much of southern Indiana. This arctic blast has been cold enough to keep most people indoors, but those brave souls with the desire to catch some winter fish have an opportunity to pull some slabs through the ice.
Ice fishing is pretty simple. You only need a few special tools. An ice auger is needed for drilling the holes in the ice you fish through. A skimmer is used to keep the hole clear of ice chunks. Special ice fishing rods can be beneficial for fishing close to your hole, but regular fishing poles will work if you do not want to invest in special ice fishing gear.
Fishing consists of lowering your bait down through the hole and working to find the depth fish are holding at. I generally drop my bait all the way to the bottom and slowly bring it back up. Fish often are found holding near the bottom, but at times they can be suspended at different depths.
Depending on what you’re fishing for, baits vary. Live bait, like worms, beemoths and minnows, are favorites of most ice fishermen. Jigs used for ice fishing are small, and some savvy ice fishermen will use various fly fishing flies.
Even when using jigs, most anglers tip them with live bait. When ice fishing for bluegills, I have had most of my success using a small jig with a little flash, and tipping it with a beemoth. Most of the crappies I have caught have come on minnows hooked through the lip.
Some ice anglers choose to fish from a shanty, which is a shelter used to protect you from the elements. You can set up a heater in a shanty. These are nice for staying warm, but limit scenery and natural exposure. Depending on how much weather you are willing to take, some ice fishermen do sit out on the ice in the open.
Once your favorite body of water has sufficient ice (at least 4 inches thick), you want to set up in areas where you would expect to catch fish in open-water conditions: along weed edges, drop-offs, on points or over brush piles. You can use fish finders while ice fishing by dropping a transducer down through the hole.
Larger bodies of water, like Lake Monroe and Patoka Lake, can offer safe ice fishing in the backs of coves and close to the shore. I wouldn’t recommend venturing too far out.
Personally, I prefer to do my ice fishing on smaller bodies of water. Here are a few places to consider giving ice fishing a try:
Shakamak State Park
Shakamak State Park is located just one mile west of Jasonville in Sullivan County. There are three lakes in the park totaling 400 acres. All of the lakes are full of fish. Lake Kickapoo is the largest lake in the park at around 300 acres, with Lake Lenape and Lake Shakamak each consisting of around 50 acres.
Yellowwood Lake is a popular impoundment located in the Yellowwood State Forest 10 miles west of Nashville on Highway 46. Surrounded by a beautiful hardwood forest, the scenery and the solitude of this 133-acre lake make it a great place to ice fish. Panfish are plentiful.
Eagle Creek Reservoir
Located on the northwest side of Indianapolis, Eagle Creek Reservoir is a great crappie fishing lake. With 1,300 acres of water and numerous coves, anglers have plenty of room to spread out.
Walleye also are caught from Eagle Creek, and few things are better in my book than cold-water walleye filets dropped in crackling peanut oil.
Safety is paramount to the enjoyment of ice fishing. Be sure to check the thickness of the ice near the edge of the water you intend to fish. A good rule of thumb is to never fish on ice less than 4 inches thick.
Never ice fish alone. Having the assistance of another to pull you to safety if you were to break through is essential. Wear a life jacket and carry an ice pick or screwdriver in your pocket. The life jacket will keep you afloat, and the ice pick will allow you to grip the ice and pull yourself out.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.