Ice fishing is the sport of catching fish with lines and hooks or spears through an opening in the ice on a frozen body of water. Fisherman may sit on a stool on the open expanse of a frozen lake or sit in a heated cabin on the ice, some with bunks and amenities.
Ice fishing on the Ottawa river, near the capital of Canada is a popular pastime in Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and Germany.
In the United States people from Alaska, the states around the Great Lakes, (Wisconsin) and other areas with lakes and long, cold winters (Minnesota) enjoy the activity. Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish settlers brought the sport with them to Minnesota; most Minnesotans who engage in ice fishing are from Nordic families. The sport came to Alaska as settlers arrived from Minnesota.
Except for Lake Erie, the Great Lakes seldom freeze over entirely, but bays of the Great Lakes do freeze and are popular ice fishing spots, with northern pike and yellow perch being the most common catches.
Many fisherman fish with no protective structure, merely heavy coats and gloves and other winter wear. Longer fishing expeditions can be mounted with simple structures. Larger, heated structures can make multi-day fishing trips possible.The investment of a fisherman in a larger structure can sometimes be the better deal for the money.
A structure with various local names, but often called an ice shanty, ice shack, fish house, bobhouse, or ice hut, is sometimes used. These are dragged or trailered from shore using a vehicle such as a snowmobile or truck, to a suitable location on the lake. Some fish houses are elaborate, and can be equipped with lights, heat, bunks, cooking facilities, and the like. At the opposite extreme are portable, tent-like structures designed to be easily moved.
In North America, ice fishing is often a social activity. Not infrequently, the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol is involved. Some resorts have fish houses that are rented out by the day (called ice huts); often, shuttle service via snowmobile is provided, eliminating any need for sobriety on the part of the participants.
In Finland, solitary and contemplative isolation is often the object of the pastime. In Finland, fish houses are a rare occurrence, but wearing a sealed and insulated drysuit designed out of space-age fabric technology for emergency rescue teams is not.
In North America, lines of fish houses often develop over underwater ridges or other areas where fish are particularly plentiful.
Icefishing gear is highly specialized. First, an ice spade, saw or auger is required to cut a circular hole or larger rectangular hole in the ice. Power augers are sometimes used. A strainer is sometimes required to remove new ice as it forms.
Three main types of fishing occurs. Small, light fishing rods with small, brightly colored lures may be used in jigging for fish. Tip-ups, which carry a line attached to a flag that "tips up" when a strike occurs, allow unattended or less-intensive fishing. The line is dragged in by hand with no reel. In spear fishing a large hole is cut in the ice and fish decoys may be deployed. The fisherman stands over the hole while holding a large spear attached to a line. This method is used for lake sturgeon fishing on Black Lake in Michigan.
Spearing through ice is one of the oldest and most ingenious fishing methods of the Native Americans of Wisconsin. On some Western Great Lakes reservations, including that of the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe in northern Wisconsin, people have continued winter spearing to the present day and have retained many traditional methods. The preparation of a fishing hole has involves the transportation of tools and supplies out onto the frozen lake usually by sled, clearing of deep snow from the fishing site with a shovel, cutting the hole itself, and the removal of chunks of cut ice with a skimmer. For centuries, Natives have relied on chisels to cut holes in ice for winter fishing. From the fur trade era to the mid-twentieth century, ice chisels came in a variety of shapes and sizes, including those with wide and narrow blades. Early blades were made of native copper and later blades were made of iron.
Natives used two types of spearing tents before the early 1900s. One type was seven-feet tall and allowed the fisherman to sit down with a long-handled spear extending outside the framework of the tent. The second type, still used today, is a crawl-in type which covers about two-thirds of the fisherman's prone body. It is designed for use with a short-handled spear.
The manufacture of handmade, wooden fish decoys is a time-honored craft in those Native communities where traditional winter spearing prevails, and each community has developed its own unique style of decoy carving and decoration. Fish decoys usually are made from local woods, with basswood being most popular at Lac du Flambeau. They are made to simulate most anything that might make a meal for a game fish, including frogs, birds, muskrats, local bait fish, and the young of local game fish.
The making of a fish decoy requires a great amount of care and precision. The curve of the tail must allow the decoy to swim accurately and its weight must ensure proper flotation. In conventional practice, fishermen lower fish-shaped decoys into holes cut through the surface of a frozen lake. The fisherman lies flat on the ice, covered by a dark tipi, and readies his spear to stab the approaching prey.
Becoming increasingly popular is the use of a flasher. This is a sonar system that tells you the depth of the fish, which can be useful when trying to catch them. There are also underwater cameras available now. These allow you to view the fish and watch how they react to your lure presentation.
Ice needs to freeze to at least four inches in depth to support walking humans, and a foot to support vehicles. However, care must be taken, because sometimes ice will break and move with currents, leaving open areas which refreeze with much thinner ice. On the Great Lakes, off-shore winds can break off miles-wide pans of ice stranding large numbers of fishermen. Late-winter warm spells can destroy the texture of the ice, which, while still of the required thickness, will not adequately support weight. It is called "rotten ice" and is exceedingly dangerous. Some ice-fishermen will continue to fish, but will carry a pole horizontally to hold them, if they fall through. Fisherman may carry a self-rescue device made of two screwdrivers connected by a string to help pull themselves back onto the ice out of the water.
A certain number of cars, trucks, SUVs, snowmobiles, and fish houses fall through the ice each year and people die. Current environmental regulations require the speedy recovery of the vehicle or structure in this situation. Divers must be hired, and when the trouble occurs far from shore, helicopters are employed for hoisting.
Another risk associated with ice fishing is carbon monoxide poisoning from fishhouse heaters. On cold nights the ice is very noisy and booming sounds like cannon fire can be heard from within it.
Participants of large Finnish ice fishing competition Miljoonapilkki in 2005.Ice fishing contests offer prizes for the largest fish caught within a limited time period. Some people take their ice fishing very seriously. In Michigan, USA, "Tip-Up Town, USA" can bring 40,000 people out onto Houghton Lake for festivities which include ice fishing, snowmobiling, snow sculpting and fireworks.
In Finland, ice fishing contests have been marred by repeated scandals, where both contestants and organizers have been caught cheating. Contestants have smuggled previously caught and frozen fish with them. And organizers have awarded the prizes to stooges, not really even participating in the competition, to avoid paying prize monies, which often rise to very high sums.
Ice fishing is a major plot element in the film Grumpy Old Men and its sequel.
Ice fishing has long been considered a "quasi-sport", in that some people claim that very little skill is really involved and that success is dependent upon just good fortune. This has led many other sportspersons to consider ice fishing to be merely a pastime for people who have few constructive or edifying activities in their lives. However, research by the AIFA (American Ice Fishing Association) has shown that ice fishing can have very calming and relaxing effects for the fishermen/fisherwomen. The AIFA also concluded that icefishing not only helps manage the fish species population, but also contributes to both community economic growth and to the emotional well-being of the participants.
What is ICE Fishing?