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How to prepare for ice fishing season


Ice angler drills hole at Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Ice angler drills hole at Flaming Gorge Reservoir

SALT LAKE CITY - With most of Utah getting pelted by freezing temperatures, going fishing may not be at the top of your to-do list. However, don't put away that tackle box just yet - ice fishing season is just around the corner, and December is the perfect time to prepare.

Ice fishing is a great way to get outdoors during the winter and is a great activity for the whole family.

"Fishing during the winter can be spectacular," Utah Division of Wildlife Resources sportfish coordinator Randy Oplinger said. "You can access an entire lake by walking across the ice; ice fishing gives those who don't own a boat a great opportunity to fish wherever they would like on a lake."

While the ice may not be quite thick enough yet for safe fishing in many parts of the state, you can begin to prepare now by making sure you have the right gear. Here's a look at some of the equipment you should have and tips to help you be successful when ice fishing:

Equipment you need

An auger to drill a hole in the ice. You can use either a hand-powered auger or a motorized auger. If you are new to the sport, hand augers work well and typically cost around $50.

Something to scoop the slush out of the hole after it is drilled. You can buy ice fishing scoops for only a few dollars or you could use a slotted spoon from your kitchen.

Ice fishing rod and line (costs typically start around $20)

Ice fishing lures (these are normally $3-4 each)

Some bait, like mealworms or wax worms (these are $3 a cup, which will last a few fishing trips)

Warm winter clothing

A camping chair or bucket to sit on

"You can get into the sport of ice fishing for under $100," Oplinger said. "Just like with any sport, you can spend more if you'd like additional equipment, but you don't need to spend a lot of money to be successful and have a good time."

Tips to help you be successful while ice fishing

During the winter when a waterbody has frozen over, fish often stay near the bottom of the lake. Because of that, a good recommendation is to start with your lure about a foot off the bottom. However, fish don't always stay along the bottom of the lake, so if you aren't getting any strikes, then try setting your lure at different depths. Fish finders can be helpful in determining where the fish are, or you can also ask other anglers who are having success at the same waterbody.

Fish don't strike hard under the ice, so you have to carefully watch the tip of your line to know if you are getting any bites. One thing that can help with that is adding a spring bobber to the end of your fishing rod to help you notice those gentle strikes.

You can catch any fish species through the ice, and any time of day can be good when ice fishing.

"The best way to prepare for ice fishing is to make sure you are dressed warmly for the colder weather and to make sure all your equipment is ready," Oplinger said. "If you are new to the sport, you can get additional tips and recommendations from fellow anglers, employees at tackle stores or online. It's always a good idea to check local fishing reports as well."

Safety recommendations

The general safety recommendation is to not step on the ice unless it is at least 4 inches thick. However, keep in mind that ice thickness can vary across a lake, so if you see that it is 4 inches in one spot, don't assume it is 4 inches across the entire lake. Be sure to drill test holes into the ice as you venture onto it. You should also avoid having large groups of people and equipment in a small area - spread the weight out.

"As an extra precaution, you can also purchase ice safety picks, which can help you get out of a lake if you fall through the ice," Oplinger said. "I'd also recommend having a rope just in case. And it's always a good idea to have someone else with you when ice fishing."

Find more ice safety tips on the Utah State Parks website.

The more prepared you are, the more success you can have, so start prepping now to have a great ice fishing season!