With the recent rounds of snow we have received over the past week, it looks more like late December across Central Minnesota than the beginning of March. Until now, It has been a very cold, but dry, winter in the west and central portions of our state. This combination has made for some very good ice conditions on area lakes.
With sports and boat show season in full swing, I, like many, have a serious case of spring fever. With that said, I do not want to wish away the up-coming weeks of ice fishing. Based on the quality of ice we currently have on local lakes, I’m anticipating this spring to be one of those years when there are numerous opportunities to sit outside, bask in warm sunshine, and enjoy some late ice action.
The part of this picture that I’m particularly looking forward to this year is sharing the experience with my kids. Over the course of the winter, my seven-year-old and five-year-old have been accompanying me on many of my ice fishing excursions. Their friends have also been out on the ice, fishing with their parents during many of these outings.
What I’ve observed on these trips is nothing short of pure enjoyment on behalf of the kids. It has really reinforced for me what a great way ice fishing is to introduce kids to angling and the outdoors. With warm weather on the way and excellent ice conditions across the region, I encourage anyone with a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, friend, or neighbor to reach out and take a kid fishing before the ice is gone. When you do, I have some advice for you based on personal experience that will hopefully help make for a better experience for both you and the kids!
First and foremost, bring snacks! I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it is to have an assortment of snacks packed when taking kids out on the ice. While just about anything will do, I prefer bringing things like trail mix, jerky and pretzels. Licorice and gummy worms can be kid favorites as well, but I try to avoid sugary snacks as much as possible. Unless the weather is warm and the kids can run a marathon around you out on the ice, introducing sugar to a kid in a confined space like a fish house can be like trying to tame a wild stallion. A personal favorite of mine out ice fishing is roasted peanuts in the shell. If the fish are not biting, cracking open shells can help preoccupy kids for a very long time! On longer outings, I also like packing a small grill and some hotdogs. It is very easy to do, and the kids always seem to enjoy it.
A second tip, particularly if the weather is nice and there are open holes around, is to bring something with to mark the open holes in the area you will be fishing. It seems like there is some type of magnifying force between an open ice hole and a kid’s foot. Nothing will bring a good fishing day to a more abrupt halt than a kid stepping in a hole and soaking their leg and foot. Even if the sun is out and the weather is warm, a boot full of icy water takes all the fun out of the experience. If you are drilling a bunch of fresh holes to do some hole-hopping, leave the slushy ice ring around the outside of the hole rather than kicking it off to the side. This also helps leave a visual reference for kids running around on the ice focused more on playing than where they are stepping.
When it comes to the fishing itself, remember it is more about the experience than catching fish. Therefore, keep things simple for the kids. Panfish, particularly bluegills, can be pretty picky biters during the cold water season, which often requires some finesse. Often using a bobber in situations like these can be counterproductive as it makes it difficult to detect subtle bites. However, I strongly suggest using bobbers when angling with kids. It is likely you’ll sacrifice some hook-ups, but the simplicity and control makes it worth it. Baits can be set to assure that they get into the strike zone repetitively, and it is a simple visual cue for kids to focus their attention on.
Using bobbers makes hook and bait selection important. Crappies can be relatively simple as a small ice jig hooked with a small minnow will often entice bites. Bluegills can be more challenging though. They are often triggered by the subtle twitches and rocking of the bait. This is more difficult to do with a bobber. Something I found to be an extremely effective work around this winter was to tip very small ice jigs with a freshwater shrimp. The subtle twitches and movement of the shrimp on the hook seemed to be enough to entice aggressive bites from bluegills. With a properly weighted bobber, the bluegills felt no resistance and buried the bobber, making it easy for kids to hook up.
Freshwater shrimp are available at many bait shops in the area during the winter months. When hooking shrimp, nip the hook through the tail end of the shrimp, this will keep them alive and more active on the hook. Shrimp are pretty small, so using small hooks is advantageous. When hooked properly, this method has dramatically outperformed other presentations using larva and waxworks in my excursions fishing with kids this winter.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you introduce a new generation to the angling world this spring. Remember that with kids, catching fish is only part of the experience. I might suggest that in many cases, catching fish might be one of the least important aspects.
Make sure to keep the experience fun! Bring snacks, bring skates and a hockey stick, bring a grill, or maybe a football to toss around. Mark the holes when you get there to prevent having to end the day short as a result of wet boots! Prioritize having fun and make catching fish secondary.
In the long run you’ll create more fishing memories by keeping these considerations in perspective.