Walk on Water: The Ice Fishing Experience
Some experiences can only be had in the north. Up here in the ice belt, walking on water is a rite of passage. The Mason-Dixon can keep its dirt roads, we learn to drive for the first time atop one of 10,000 frozen lakes.
And winter fishing means something a little more ‘round these parts. It’s how you learn to love a sub-zero forecast—to pray for below freezing late fall days, putting you one day closer to the hard water.
If ice fishing conjures up visions of Grumpy Old Men on $5 hardware store buckets, you’re not all wrong. But for every humble ice shanty, there’s a bells-and-whistles ice castle. For every Grandfather-built ice shack, there’s a cutting-edge ice trap.
That’s the thing about ice fishing—it can be done in so many different ways. But regardless of how you do it, it’s an experience like no other. When we think about how to do it justice, what comes to mind more than anything is the sounds. The biting of steel ice cleats on frozen water. Brisk silence cut by the eerily loud, otherworldly noise as the ice expands and contracts beneath you—a stomach dropper whether you’re on trip one or one hundred.
It’s the grind of the auger, the sloshing of the metal skimmer scooping a slurry of crushed ice from a freshly cut hole, the soft hum of a flasher and the clank of rippin’ raps in the tackle box.
Then comes the action. The snap of a tip-up, the whirr of a fish on. The clicking of a rattle reel jarring you awake with a fresh bite. The hooting and hollering of your buddy yelling “flag!” and the razzing when you miss the hook set on a great white belly.
It’s the bang of boots kicking off snow outside the ice house, clomping inside to the sizzle of slab crappies frying in the skillet, the shuffle of cards, the whispering fizz of popped caps on a 6-pack of silver bullets.
And then there’s the silence. Man, the silence. When you turn off the radio and the rest of the world. All that’s left is the stars, the lake and you.
Some folks say there’s not much to it. Maybe they’re right, maybe that’s the magic of the whole thing. Maybe the things we remember when it’s all said and done are the things that don’t seem like much—the sounds, the feelings, the tradition.
Wicked Wally’s Ice Fishing Tips
- Sunset is prime time, but don’t sleep on the night bite—literally and figuratively.
- If you see three fish without a bite, change lures. Good plastics will do the trick, but nothing beats a fresh shiner minnow.
- Keep the cooler stocked. Even when you’re getting skunked, the bottle bass are always biting.
- The smaller they are, the better they eat.
- Preserve the ecosystem—throw the big boys back. Just don’t forget to snap a photo first.
- If your ice shack is without a heater, bring one along. Losing a finger to frostbite is 0% tough and 100% stupid.
- Soggy socks are a bad time. Take our word for it and get yourself some waterproof boots.
- Don’t forget the snacks! You’re droppin’ lines for fun, not for survival (at least we hope not).
- Have your fishing license close, renewed and ready for when the DNR comes a-knockin’.
- If the thought of going it on your own has you feeling like a walleye out of water, turn to the experts. Resorts specializing in ice fishing will handle the nitty-gritty so you can worry less and fish more.