Ice fishing season is coming up, and there are some things you might want to know before beginning your next ice fishing adventure.
For starters, the start of the ice fishing season depends on where you are located. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks spokesman Nick Harrington said the unofficial start of the ice fishing season is Thanksgiving, but be wary of ice depths.
“Always know where you’re going,” Harrington said. “Never assume ice is safe. Carry ice picks around your neck to help in case you fall in, as well as a spud bar to check ice thickness.”
According to the Game, Fish and Parks’ website, there are several different ice thickness levels.
If the ice is less than 4-inches thick, stay off of it. Single-file lines of foot traffic should be safe if it is 4- to 6-inches thick. Snowmobiles and ATVs can travel on the ice when it reaches 6- to 12-inches thick. A 12- to 16-inch ice thickness allows for small cars and pickups on the ice. But you’re encouraged to not drive on the ice if it’s less than 16-inches thick. Once the ice is at least 16-inches thick it should be safe for a medium-sized car or mid-size pickup.
Ice fishing is a very popular activity in the wintertime. Ice fishing enthusiast Chris Hull loves the sport so much that he would give up everything combined before he gave up ice fishing.
“As a kid, I didn’t have a boat until I was a teenager,” Hull said. “Ice fishing gives you access to parts of the lake that you hadn’t had before. In high school, we would build fish houses in shop class. We’d have heaters in them to stay warm. We had fish shacks all over Sisseton. It’s something to do in the winter. I was never a good coyote hunter, so ice fishing gave me a good opportunity to be outside. The opportunities I had to be outside ice fishing were just great.”
Ice fishing is a little different than regular fishing during the summer. For one, wax worms are typically used for bait, as well as minnows. Harrington noted that rods are typically shorter. Hull said one faux pas he’s noticed is people using the wrong gear.
“People will use too heavy of gear, too heavy of a rod and too heavy of a line,” Hull said. “They’ll try to use their walleye jigging rods to catch bluegills, and that just doesn’t work. You need small lines, small hooks, small baits, and sensitive rods and reels. You have to match the fish you want with your gear.”
As far as programs are concerned, Game, Fish and Parks put on Kids Ice Fishing Day at Mickelson Pond off East Fourth Street in Pierre around February. The program teaches kids the joys of ice fishing, as well as educates them on how to fish safely. As far as good ice fishing spots go, Harrington said Mickelson Pond is a great place to start if you want to get kids involved, but he noted a few other areas.
“Farm Island is a place that people go to pretty consistently,” Harrington said. “There’s also Cow Creek and a few other places up north. I prefer the Grassland ponds, in general, some of those ponds you’ll see on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. There’s no current or anything like that at play, and the water is pretty peaceful.”
Hull echoed Harrington by noting a few smaller, yet still relatively known, spots.
“I love those Lyman County ponds, Murdo Dam and Cottonwood up by Agar,” Hull said. “None of these places are all that secret. If you can go to these places, get away from the crowds, try and go when it’s not that busy, you can catch a lot of fish.”
Battery-powered augers have changed the way people ice fish, and are preferred by many ice fishing enthusiasts despite being fairly expensive. Hull noted that you can find several gas augers for affordable prices by going to fishing social media sites.
As for resources to help you along the way, Harrington said there are several options.
“We have our GFP Facebook page,” Harrington said. “There’s the Outdoor campus, and we’ll be having a ton of educational materials on our YouTube page as well. A good way of learning about ice fishing is by going ice fishing with your family, or with a friend.”