As we begin the New Year, sub-zero temperatures have blanketed much of Missouri. This arctic blast has been cold enough to keep most people indoors, but those brave souls with the desire to catch some winter fish have an opportunity to pull some slabs through the ice.
Ice fishing is pretty simple. You only need a few special tools. An ice auger is needed for drilling the holes in the ice you fish through. A skimmer is used to keep the hole clear of ice chunks. Special ice fishing rods can be beneficial for fishing close to your hole, but regular fishing poles will work if you do not want to invest in special ice fishing gear.
Fishing consists of lowering your bait down through the hole and working to find the depth fish are holding at. I generally drop my bait all the way to the bottom and slowly bring it back up. Fish are often found holding near the bottom, but at times can be suspended at different depths.
Depending on what you’re fishing for, baits vary. Live bait, like worms, beemoths and minnows are favorites of most ice fishermen. Jigs used for ice fishing are small and some savvy ice fishermen will use various fly fishing flies. Even when using jigs, most anglers tip them with live bait. When ice fishing for bluegills, I have had most of my success using a small jig with some flash and tipping it with a beemoth. Most of the crappies I have caught have come on minnows hooked through the lip.
Some ice anglers choose to fish from a shanty, which is a shelter used to protect you from the elements. You can set up a heater in a shanty. These are nice for staying warm, but limit scenery and natural exposure. Depending on how much weather you are willing to take, ice fishermen do sit on a bucket or chair out in the open.
Most say the magic number for ice to be thick enough for safe ice fishing is 4-inches. Once your favorite body of water has sufficient ice, you want to set up in areas where you would expect to catch fish in open water conditions; along weed edges, drop-offs, on points or over brush piles. You can use fish finders while ice fishing by dropping a transducer down through the hole.
Larger bodies of water, like Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake, can offer safe ice fishing in the backs of coves and close to the shore. I wouldn’t recommend venturing too far out. Personally, I prefer to do my ice fishing on smaller bodies of water. Here are a few places to consider giving ice fishing a try.
D.C. Rogers Lake
D.C. Rogers Lake is located on the west side of Fayette in Howard County. This 185-acre impoundment is known for good fishing and has ample access from the city park on the north side of the lake. The west end of the lake is shallower with a large lily pad growth. If you can find the outer edge of these weeds under the ice, you should find some fish.
Binder Community Lake
Just west of Jefferson City off Highway 50, you’ll find Binder Community Lake. Surrounded by a beautiful 644-acre city park, Binder Lake is a great place to ice fish for bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish. Since this 155-acre lake is in the city, there’s a good chance others will be out there. Which in the case of ice fishing is a good thing, because if an accident were to happen, others would be around for safety sake.
Little Dixie Lake
Located between Columbia and Fulton on Route J is Little Dixie Lake. With 205 acres of water and numerous coves, anglers have plenty of room to spread out. Crappie are plentiful in Little Dixie and few things are better in my book than cold-water crappie filets dropped in crackling peanut oil. There is a 12-15 inch slot limit on largemouth bass.
Safety is paramount to the enjoyment of ice fishing. Be sure to check the thickness of the ice near the edge of the water you intend to fish. A good rule of thumb is to never fish on ice less than 4-inches thick. Never ice fish alone. Having the assistance of another to pull you to safety if you were to break through is essential. Wear a lifejacket and carry an ice pick or screwdrafloat in your pocket. The life jacket will keep you a float, and the ice pick will allow you to grip the ice and pull yourself out.
See you down the trail…