Getting out on the ice to fish certainly has not been a problem this winter.
Drilling through the stuff might be another matter.
“It’s the thickest ice and will be the longest ice fishing season that the area has had in a couple of decades,” said Ed McCain, co-owner of Mik Lurch Fishing Tackle Outlet in Hammond.
The fishing community is not letting the ice a foot thick or more coating area lakes go to waste. Thousands of ice fishing holes are being drilled in the smallest of ponds right on up to the biggest of lakes.
“People are ice fishing,” McCain said. “Those that might have fished as kids are coming back to it because of the prolonged season. A new generation of ice fishermen has been born and reborn. It is on for men, women, and children.
“For the kids the experience goes a long way. I recommend that if you take a kid ice fishing, do it one-on-one. It is special for them.”
As with any fishing there is a lot of trial and error in finding the fish and then figuring out what is going to put them on the hook, anglers say.
“You have to use different approaches,” said Doug Gough of Valparaiso. “Sometimes the fish will sit at the bottom and hit the bait. Other times they might be suspended in the water and will only hit the bait on the way down, on that downward motion.
“I have also found that it is usually an early bite from the crack of dawn until late morning. Then the bite is gone. The fish get a case of lockjaw.”
Bluegill and redear sunfish along with largemouth bass seem to be the dominant fish climbing out of the holes along with an occasional northern pike and crappie.
Whatever is hitting you really cannot go wrong by using a live offering as bait, McCain said. He recommends bee moths, white maggots, red maggots, or mousies (rat-tailed maggots). It also may help to drop some loose bait down before dropping in a line.
"For newbies or experienced ice fishermen, live bait is the best bet," he said. "A few ice jigs and bait will do the trick. Don’t be afraid to put a few free bee moths down the hole. It does pay dividends to prime the pump.”
The extended ice fishing season is great for the increased numbers out on the frozen waters, but this also means that the ice may encroach on the next season in line.
“Chances are that it’s going to be a late open water season,” McCain said. “Everything is going to warm up at a very slow clip.
He's concerned that the ice may cost the area its early coho run. He said there have been years where the coho have come in under the ice. By the time it thawed, the fish were slim pickings.
The spring coho salmon run can start as early as late February peaking in late April or early May.
Secure ice for fishing is four inches thick and it is safe to drive snowmobiles and all terrain vehicles on five inches, so thin ice is not an issue in most places right now. But areas where there might be flowing water or a spring should be approached with caution. Clear ice is the most stable.
Be sure to fish in pairs and carry ice hooks and rope for emergencies. Staying on your feet is important as well, so wear cleats when walking on the ice.