STOP Ice Fishing - START Angling On Ice - Part 1

By Dan Anderson - November 1, 2000
There are three methods that an angler on ice is equipped for and uses during an ice fishing season to travel over lakes and other bodies of water. They are Ultra Light, Medium Light, and Stout Light. Each is used for different times of the ice fishing season and for different types of lakes.

Ultra Light
For the Ultra Light traveling method use a small hand pulled sled to carry your equipment. The amount of equipment taken fishing is limited to the basics. I use a small 18" wide x 6' long sled. This sled is equipped with a bucket that carries my ice rods, strainer, etc. and doubles as a jigging seat. It's also loaded with two automated ice angling units (Finicky's Fish Factory), bait/tackle box, flasher, and ice auger. This combination is pulled by hand easily. As a danderson11_00.jpgmatter of fact, I can pull this equipped sled with only one finger holding the pull rope. While my personal preference is a narrow sled that is longer than standard, small sleds with square or rectangle size dimensions also work excellent.

An angler on ice uses this set up during early and late ice conditions and for lakes with walk-in only access. Remember that lakes with walk-in only access generally receive very little ice fishing pressure and can be true gems in production. I schedule my season for several trips to this type of lake each year.

Since this travel method provides no shelter from harsh winter weather it should not be used exclusively for an entire season. You will severely limit your total ice fishing days. When fishing lakes with walk in only access, were allowed, I will hand pull in my sled with fishing equipment for a friend and myself. The fellow angler pulls in a small sled with a supply of firewood and a portable fire pit with screen. We then make a campfire on the ice for staying warm. This can be either a fun daytime or nighttime fishing experience.

Medium Light
When traveling medium light the angler on ice pulls a portable shanty (fish house) and their ice fishing equipment by hand. The combination sled-flip up fish house works excellent. These units come in one person or two person versions, and sit down or stand up styles. While, I personally use the larger two person design, it is harder to pull by hand than the single person models. Using this style unit an ice angler can carry all the essential modern equipment needed for ice fishing success. I equip mine with all the items listed under the Ultra Lite method, plus a combination heater lantern mounted on a propane cylinder, larger food and fluids containers, larger bait containers, more electronics (flasher, larger underwater camera system, through-ice-depth-finder), and 10" gas powered ice auger.

Since you are pulling greater weight, than with the Ultra Light method, this technique should not be used during thinner, but safe, ice conditions like early or late ice. It is, however, a good method for walk-in only access lakes or private ponds when winter weather conditions are more extreme.

Stout Light
Stout Light uses the same equipment as listed under Medium Light, but you pull it with an ATV or snowmobile. This allows you to cover large lake areas quickly to both initially locate and stay with fishing action. Generally, ATV's work excellent until the snow is too deep for them to operate. Then switch to a snowmobile or track type of ATV to navigate across the frozen snow covered lakes.

In an experiment, the inventor of Finicky's Fish Factory watched fish reaction to the approach of an ATV and snowmobile. Since this experiment was done before access to underwater cameras, they sawed a large hole in the ice and placed a dark house over the hole. He had a person on an ATV and another on a snowmobile and all were equipped with two-way radios. Upon seeing a school of fish through the ice hole the ATV driver was instructed to approach at a specified speed. Next the snowmobile approached at the same speed. This was repeated alternating between the snowmobile and ATV.

Results showed that fish "spooked" more with the snowmobile approaching, than with the ATV. The low pressure, rubber tires seemed to transmit less sound and vibration through the ice than did the slapping of the snowmobile drive belt and scrapping of steering skis.

With this knowledge, I now always use an ATV until snow makes them impassible for use, then substitute to pulling my equipment with a snowmobile.

Full Size Vehicles Over Lakes
Most of my ice fishing is done in areas that allow you to drive your highway vehicles over the frozen lakes. Years ago I

Watching weedy bottom structure as vehicles over 2,000 feet away drive across a lake shows dramatic rippling effects.
noticed, for ice conditions up to approximately 24", fishing action would die off after a car or truck drove over the lake. This occurred even when the vehicle past far from my fishing holes. My belief was that the weight of the vehicle caused pressure on the water, which rippled across the lake. Over the years frustration occurred with ice fishermen who repeatedly drove their vehicle on and off the ice. Many would leave and come back three or more times a day, getting more bait or food.

Now with ability to monitor with an underwater camera these suspicions were confirmed. But, to my astonishment a vehicle crossing causes a much more violent reaction than expected. Watching weedy bottom structure as vehicles over 2,000 feet away drive across a lake shows dramatic rippling effects. The weeds lie over completely flat, the same as if a severe windstorm was ripping through a prairie. These previous hunches have now been confirmed.

This information caused me to emphasize locating and fishing other lake areas that have similar structure, but are less traveled. The result has been more consistent fish catching action.

Remember while many ice fisherman equip themselves for only one travel method, an angler on ice is geared for and uses all three methods of traveling light. Planned and systematic usage of all three traveling methods and all four ice fishing styles will take you from just being an ice fisherman to an angler on ice. This will dramatically increase your ice fishing success.

Good Fishing!

Author Dan Anderson
Dan Anderson
Dan has examined ice fishing practices including the methods used by ice fishermen, their purchasing habits, safety values, and success rates. He's arranged ice fishing strategy in an easy to utilize method for increasing production and is the originator of the "STOP- Ice Fishing and START- Angling On Ice" concept using four styles of ice fishing and three methods for traveling light throughout a season. Dan's also a seminar presenter, director of the Ice Pro Team for Finicky's Fish Factory, and licensed guide.