Archive for the ‘Ice Fishing’ Tag

ICE FISHING TIPS   2 comments


Winter brings a different brand of fishing to many waterways. Here’s what to expect from this year’s hard-water season.

Ice fishing is basically a sport practiced in the northern half of the country due to weather conditions. The southern half does not reach sustainable temperatures to form enough ice to support ice fishing.

The northern areas sustain the sport from December to late February.

Hard water anglers get as much fun out of planning forays on the ice any other fishing. They begin by selecting an area.  If it is a forest preserve near home, obtain the stocking tallies from local websites.  That way you have an idea as to what species to expect.

It often becomes a family project to gather as much information about the proposed trip(s) on the ice. Anticipation is a large part of the fun for a family.  Do not just wander out on the ice.  Check on maps for structure and bowls in the water.  Again turn to the Internet.  Often a local park of governmental website will have topographical lake maps.

Also search Google Maps ( for photos of the same body of water. By combining the information from both, you can plan fishing locations.   Look for sharp turns in the shoreline, weed edges and timber.  By recording the GPS coordinates for the waypoints you have 10 to 12 locations to begin the search for fish.

Punching a lot of holes seems to be a premise for kind of fishing

Many ice anglers use artificial lures almost exclusively. Some use natural bait only as a last resort.  By experimenting with different colors on various bodies of water they find that glow jigs with glow tails are best for crappies bass and bluegills.  Sometimes they get some success with an orange/red combination for bluegills.

When choosing a color experiment by using a glow jig with a different color tail. If all else fails go to a black jig head with a red tail on 1-pound line.

Post-season finds many picking several accessible lakes to explore as possible ice fishing locations for the next year. Check the maps and mark them with notes on breaklines and structure.  Successful anglers always fish structure.  They will fish on all sides and the top.  The larger fish seem to be on the outside edges of the structure while the smaller ones seem to go into it for concealment.

Due to the clarity of winter water, fish the water column from the top down two feet at a time. This is contrary to traditional ice fishing lore but it is successful for most ice fishermen.

If permitted in site specific regulations make use of electronic fish locaters and cameras in some of the location you like to fish. Fish locaters and cameras are very effective in locating structure in the clear water of deep lakes.

By keeping track of the stocking information on each lake during the year you gain an idea of species and numbers of fish.

IN DEPTH ICE FISHING   Leave a comment


In ice fishing if the fish are in the 12 to 20 foot depths on the main part of a lake, a combination of structure and current makes a good location for the angler.  Fish are just out of the current and around structure.  Forage fish seek small plankton flowing in the current.

Largemouth bass and other predator fish hang around such areas close to stumps, beneath undercuts, rocks or just on a sharp break line.

Any disruption such as a sudden noise on the ice and the fish shut down.  Light also seems to have a detrimental effect on feeding fish.  The brighter the day, the more fish seem to hug the bottom.

Weedy areas or those with dark bottom warm sooner and are more likely to attract fish.  The weeds and the dark muddy bottom absorb what warmth is available on a sunny day and hold fish longer.

Cold water fishing means sluggish fish biting lightly.

If electronic fish locator is available you can establish the level at which the fish are suspended.  Drop your lure until it is slightly above them.  Fish feed up.  Just look at the way their eyes sit in their head.  They are built to feed upward.

It is important to fish slowly during ice fishing activity in response to the apparent sluggishness of the quarry.  The lure needs to get down to the bottom or at least near it.  It is important to remember the lure is going to have to be right in front of the larger fish for him to react to it.

Play close attention to a tic of the bite and set the hook immediately.  Fish will not hold the lure for long in these conditions.  Any variation in the action of the line calls for a quick hook set.  Ice fishing is a game of total concentration on the task at hand.

How To Fish Thin Ice   1 comment

Thin Ice

The variety of temperatures and degree of ice available throughout the some 400 miles of Illinois from top to bottom presents a need for caution in winter angling situations. While early ice conditions present danger in some of the northern counties, the fact of little or no ice may be available in the southern counties.

The lowlight conditions of early morning are usually the best ice fishing conditions on most waters. They are especially desirable on Lake Michigan.

The bays and harbors are the safest locations for ice anglers. The main lake generally does not freeze sufficiently to make for safe ice fishing conditions.  The shelf ice formed along the shoreline is very dangerous.

The ice conditions in Illinois portions of the lake can be very dangerous until the thickness of the ice reaches 3 to 4 inches. On sunny days, the piers and docks warm making the ice near them less stable.  Early on in the season, many anglers in the harbors will drill holes adjacent to these manmade structures and fish them by sitting or standing on the structure as opposed to walking on the ice.

In southern Illinois anglers seldom get ice thick enough to walk on. They have adapted the pattern of drilling holes next to piers and docks and standing on the mores stable structure to fish through holes in the ice.  On Power plant lakes and others without ice, the ice fishing jigging techniques produce fish from boats.

Throughout the state early season prospects for trout and panfish are better as the fish seem to like a thin coat of ice over their heads. They tend to suspend in weeds or near wood where the water is slightly warmer.  They usually are about 4 to 6-feet down.

In the Lake Michigan harbors anglers can expect to find rainbow, lake, brown and steelhead trout in harbors such as Burnham, Belmont, and Montrose. Recommended lures include jigging spoons tipped with minnow heads and spawn sacks.  The panfish species available are yellow perch, crappies and bluegill.   Anglers use double rigs with minnows and plastics fished slowly.

In the southern counties the ice anglers is more likely to finds crappie and largemouth bass with an occasional channel catfish.

Anglers from the northern counties often travel into southern Wisconsin harbors at Racine and Kenosha to fish Lake Michigan perch. Access to the harbors is easily available from the Interstate Highways.





To the non-angler, fishing in winter seems like a venture in folly.  One person once asked how you get the cubes to stay on the hook.

No matter what the angler’s expertise, ice fishing offers a chance to overcome obstacles, enjoy the camaraderie and employ rugged skills.  The social aspects of the sport seem to be more than a little part of the fun.

Ice fishing gives you the freedom to move about and talk to other anglers.  In a boat you are sometimes reluctant to do the same.  You are free to talk with others fishing the same area.  Because the fish seem to concentrate in certain locations, there usually are a number of anglers fishing the same area.

Ice fishermen are a small community of anglers who share a desire to sit in freezing conditions and do not feel the need to be secretive.  They figure attempting to hide the fact that they are catching fish is unproductive since everyone can see where they are set up anyway.

Ice fishermen seem more willing to talk with one another and to share information about the bite.  When most people go out on the ice and do not know where to fish, they head for the nearest group, which may only be two anglers.  Others do the same and pretty soon there is a whole village.

The bucket brigade is a name given to anglers who go out on the ice with minimal shelter, sit on a five-gallon bucket and work a little harder for their fish.  These guys never worry about somebody in their spot.  You cannot fish two lines through an 8-inch hole.

There has been much learned about the techniques of ice fishing in recent years attracting many people to the sport.  Improvements in equipment and clothing attract people in to the sport that may not have had an interest in the old ways of ice fishing.

As ice fishermen we should never forget that there is a social aspect to it.  That is one of the things that make it magical.


ICE FISHING WOLF LAKE   Leave a comment


There are two Wolf Lakes in Illinois.  This one is near Chicago just off of Lake Michigan on the Illinois/Indiana state line.  The other one is downstate.

Wolf Lake is a 419-acre lake in the William W. Powers Conservation Area located at 131st Street and the IL/IN state line.  Dredged and separated into different sections by dikes.  There are 5 different sections.  The maximum depth is 15-feet with an average depth of 5.91 feet.

Numerous drop-offs and weed lines provide excellent ice fishing opportunities.  There is a variety of species available including smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie, bullhead, carp and yellow perch.

Entrance is from Avenue O at about 123rd street.  It is accessible from Interstate 94 and 90.  Ample parking is available in the winter a short distance from the shoreline.

Most of the better fishing areas are on the Illinois side.  Be sure you know what side your fishing as you need a license for the state in which you are fishing.  The state line is well marked.

A popular area for ice fishing is the cove at the south end of the lake just off 133rd street near the Ranger’s office.  The weed beds in the cove attract perch.  Other areas attracting fish include those with current.  The current flows through the dikes but it may make the ice pretty thin as it wears away the underside.

Basically the current flows into the Illinois side of the lake at the state line and the dead end of State Line Road.  It then flows northeast to the railroad bridge.  As it flows under the tracks there is a deep drop-off of from 5-feet to 14-feet.  It then flows southwest to the culvert dike, coming back up to 5-feet.  From there it flows west over the dam and into Indian Creek near the parking lot.

As the waterfowl season ends the ice fishing begins as the ice begins to thicken enough to be safe.  It continues as long as the ice is safe.  The park is open sunrise to sunset and there is no ice fishing at night.


Photo by Mike McNett

Photo by Mike McNett

Chicagoans speak of “The Hawk” with a kind of reverence and dread in the same breath.  The hawk is the wind that blows off Lake Michigan during the winter months.  It brings a chill to the northeastern part of Illinois.  But, it also brings temperatures low enough to provide safe ice to the area Forest Preserves.  It brings great ice fishing.

Most of the area preserves post signs when it is not safe to walk on the ice.  They also post alerts on their websites.  But, is is still a good idea to exercise great care as conditions are constantly changing.

There are a number of publications and websites available from various forest preserve districts to help you in deciding where to fish.  For instance, the Cook County Forest Preserve District has one that is very good.  It is the annual Fishing Guide that is available on the website ( contains maps of the various bodies of water including topographical features.  It lists site specific fishing regulations applicable to the areas.  A printed version of the guide is available from the district’s office at 536 N. Harlem Ave, River Forest, IL 60305 or from any of the district’s Nature Centers.

A tip for anglers venturing forth on hard water is to record the same trips made in summer.  Would you fish these same locations in winter?  No?  Be willing to move when conditions dictate.  Fish will move around.  It is a good idea to drill several holes and move around the structure.

The basic equipment for ice fishing the forest preserves is the same as most ponds and slews.  What you need is a fish locator, ice auger, rods and reels, some ice fishing jigs and bait.  Placed on a child’s sleigh you can tow them around with ease.  Sometimes 5-gallon buckets hold tackle.  They also double as seats when the action slows or to bring home the fish you catch.

Another tip is to ask those you know who do this kind of fishing for help.  Even out on the ice other anglers others will help with advice.  When the action slows they are only too anxious to share knowledge.

Ask other anglers about good locations on the lake you plan to fish.  It helps to ask at local bait shops.    They usually are in the know as to where the fish are biting this week.

Good locations often stand out because of the number of people located there.  Remember your manners and do not set-up to close to someone else.  Ask permission to fish close to someone or find your own place.  This in public water but courtesy goes a long way toward a pleasant fishing experience.

Finally when looking for fish look where you would normally find them in summer.  Structure, be it brush piles, ledges or rock piles are good prospects.  Pay attention to current flow.  Once on the ice, cut holes and look around.   In an area with a number of holes previously drilled, it may turn out to be a popular place for fish.  Being popular with ice fishermen may be because it is a good place to fish.


Ice Fishing Basics


Not having a basic knowledge of a sport like ice fishing limits ones desire to participate. With a little forethought and some basic and relatively inexpensive equipment is all one needs to find success in this sport.

Since one needs to drill holes in the ice to get to the fish, an ice auger or ice chisel is a place to start. A child’s sled will serve well to carry all the equipment across the ice in one trip.

There are a number of good ice fishing rods and reels on the market at reasonable prices. They are usually about 2 to 3 feet in length and the reels are usually spinning reels.  They hold about 25 yards of 1 to 4 pound monofilament line.  Some ice anglers like to use tip-ups.  Tip-ups hold bait at a certain depth.  The reel turns from a tug of a fish and releases a flag as a signal.  When the flag flies, it is time to reel in the fish.

An ice scoop is handy to remove ice chips from the ice hole.

Plastic 5-gallon buckets come in handy to store equipment, hold fish and to sit on.

Hooks are usually number 8 or 10 size. Small tear-drop jigs in a variety of bright colors are handy.  Bait for bluegills and perch is usually grubs, mousies, wigglers and wax worms.  Small minnows hooked through the back allow them to swim freely.  A small bobber will hold baits at a precise depth.

Some optional equipment might be a portable shelter or fish house to get out of the wind. A portable depth finder or underwater camera lets you to locate structure, check depth and monitor fish.  A small lantern or heater aids in keeping you warm.

If larger fish are present you might like to have a gaff to aid in pulling them through the usual 8-inch hole.

Having several pre-drilled holes is wise. Crappies and perch tend to roam.  Mobility will likely improve your success.

Keep your bait moving gently. It sends out fish attracting vibration that they pick up through the lateral line.  Move the bait from side to side as well as up and down.  Check the entire water column beginning at the top and moving down in 2 foot increments.  Vary the speed and rhythm.

Perch tend to school vertically and can be found anywhere from the top of the water column just under the ice to the bottom.

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