With the cooperation of Mother Nature and the proper preparation, ice fishing can be fun and productive.
However, the number one concern is making sure the ice is safe to hold the angler.
The recent deep freeze weather has brought with it thoughts off ice fishing--something we don’t often get to experience in Southern Indiana.
Every couple of years, there is enough cold weather in January or early February for an ice fishing trip or two, but it doesn't happen often. But when conditions are right for safe ice, fishing can be fun and provide a winter’s meal of fresh fish.
In this area, we are fortunate if there are three or four good ice fishing days a year. Some years there are none, but the recent cold snap could make safe ice for a few days.
Often we will get three or four cold days, but they usually are followed by a warmup. If we don’t get good ice, anglers can pack their gear and head north.
Ice fishing continues to grow in popularity in northern states, and many resorts have as much winter business as they do during summer months. Some rent ice shanties complete with heat and lounge chairs.
In this area, anglers don’t worry about ice shanties. We don’t have enough good ice to make them worthwhile, although they are utilized on some of the northern Indiana and Ohio lakes.
Here anglers cut a few holes in the ice, and hopefully catch some dandy bluegill or crappie. Some people do set up a screen to provide protection from the wind.
For ice fishermen in Southern Indiana, the most important aspect of the sport also is making sure the ice is safe. Farm ponds generally produce safe ice earlier than larger bodies of water like Patoka Lake.
Ice anglers should be alert to the dangers of different types of ice. Ice may be safe on one pond, and not on another. A slush type of ice is very dangerous and may be only half as strong as clear, blue ice. Slush ice indicates a weakening of the ice. Clear and blue river ice may be 15 percent weaker than pond or lake ice.
New ice is almost always stronger than old ice because the connection between ice crystals decays with age. Dark or honeycombed ice indicates deterioration and should be avoided.
Wind chill affects the "cold" anglers feel. A light wind can accelerate the formation of ice, but strong winds can force water from beneath the ice and accelerate the decay of ice around the edges.
Snow is a good insulator for ice and helps keep it strong, but it can also keep it from further freezing or even hide cracks or weak ice. Lakes with moving water should be approached with caution. Water movement can slow the freezing process and leave hard-to-detect thin spots.
Ice conditions can and do vary greatly. Because there are so many variables in ice formation, ice forms at different rates. One spot can be an inch thick while another area close by can be almost a foot thick. I like four inches of ice to feel safe.
When you have good ice, it can be great for fishing. And, panfish never tastes better than when taken from clear, cold water.