By Nick Simonson
For every great ice fishing day with a spirited four-year old, there are those other days where things get cut short or don’t pan out. That’s just part of the process and being ready for what comes results in more good fishing memories. For each photo of a trout, bluegill or walleye hoisted topside, there’s a series of endless questions, a foot in the hole or the one call of nature that requires a trip home and some TP. Managing a trip geared toward a younger angler requires some forethought, patience and the ability to know when to pack it in. What follows are some tips to make the ice fishing experience great for a little fishing buddy as the region enters the home stretch – and some of the fastest fishing – of the winter season.
Ready for Anything
Take ten or fifteen minutes to be certain that all necessary gear is packed and ready before heading out, from the staples like electronics and propane heater to rods, bait and tackle to the kid-specific snacks, juice boxes, extra gloves and maybe even a spare set of socks and boots. Be ready to engage young people in the outdoors. Talk about the sky, the moon overhead, the sunset, wildlife seen along the way and how the fish make it through winter.
Let young anglers help with the preparations. Once holes are drilled, explain to them how to remove the slush and ice with a dipper. Have them assist in setting up and flipping over the tent on a sled shack or getting the hubs into place on a pop-up shelter and then rigging rods and baiting hooks as their skills allow. These little items give them buy-in to the entire experience and ownership of the fish they catch.
Get on a Bite
A key for getting kids to take to ice fishing is to find a fast bite. Whether it be a bevy of bluegills or a lake full of perch, it rarely matters what size the fish are. Rather, kids are drawn into the experience by a continuous bite, where bobbers go down frequently, and fish come up the hole often. Younger kids will enjoy the excitement of panfish, while older kids may get a kick out of learning how to use tip-ups for pike, or they may have the patience which is sometimes required of walleye angling through the ice.
Find a spot and stick to it if possible, as the hole-hopping normally employed by many hardcore anglers this time of year is slowed quite a bit by the presence of a young person. Use previous places where success has been found and get set up quickly and on top of fish, moving only when necessary to keep kids warm and happy. With older kids, this isn’t as much of a problem, and as they grow more independent, they may do some exploratory jigging around a set up house as well.
Ultimately, the more comfortable the accommodations, the longer a young angler will last on the ice, no matter how fast or slow the angling is. Pick a day where weather and temperatures are favorable, regardless of whether the angling is in a permanent shack or a trusty portable. Make sure that warm, waterproof boots are worn by young anglers, as the first thing that tends to have kids longing for home are cold, wet feet. Also, keep mittens and jackets dry and off the ice or the floor of the shack where they can get damp and dirty. When things get too cold, the bite dies off, or its just time to wrap it up due to approaching nap times or the end of an attention span, call it good and head home.
Using these guidelines, it’s easy to turn young anglers into ice angling aficionados after just a few trips. Keep the focus on their activities while fishing readily-biting species and know when to call it a day. In time the passion will take root in their hearts and ice fishing will become a fun pastime for them too…in our outdoors.