Ice Fishing MN Lake Fishing Article Family Ice Fishing on a Shoestring Budget

Fishing Guide Minnesota Jeff Sundin Deer River

Family Ice Fishing, Starting from Scratch on A Shoestring Budget – Jeff Sundin December 2005

This fishing season has been one of the most successful in recent memory for me. Not because of the big fish we caught. Not because of how many fish we caught. In fact, I don’t remember this season as a stand out because of any of the average measures of success. What made this season great for me, was my opportunity to be involved in a true family fishing epiphany. A father and two young teenage boys, who literally woke up one morning as non-anglers, then fished only a single day and became hooked or maybe you could even say obsessed with the idea of learning to fish.

Since that day, these three never missed a weekend. Heading out on foot, with simple fishing gear, they found fishing piers, channels and shoreline areas around the Twin Cities Metro Region and fished just like we used to as kids. Trial and error, picking up tips and tricks from anywhere they could. Best of all, they caught fish and had fun together as a family. The passion for their new pastime has grown even stronger with the coming of winter. Which leads us to their new challenge, Ice Fishing.

Here was the question they posed to me; How can a family get started in the sport of ice fishing on a modest budget and still have a good chance of success?

Being the thoughtful type, I pondered this question for a while and came up with this simple, but effective system that purposely avoids complication and focuses on a general game plan of simply catching fish, whatever they might be.

Here’s the recipe list of gear I put together for the whole group; 3 Tip ups @ $6.00 each, 3 simple jig rods with plastic handles and hand winding reels (line included) @ $6.00 each, 3 spools of tip up line @ $3.00each, 1 spool of 14 lb. Test mono line for leaders @ $4.00, 6 packages of assorted size split shot and small size egg sinkers @ $1.00 each, 3 packs of plain fish hooks in size 6, 4 and 1/0 for a total of $5.00, a small assortment of bobbers, snap swivels, clip on depth finders, a plastic ice scoop and a small pocket size tackle box for a total of $11.00.

When it came to the auger I decided to splurge a bit. Even though I could find a less expensive hand auger, I went with the Lazer (by Stikemaster) because we want these young fellows to drill lots of holes and only a good sharp auger will encourage them to keep drilling. So, we added the light weight, Lazer 7-inch hand auger at $70.00. The seven-inch size is large enough for most Pike they’ll come across and makes drilling easier.

To finish off the set up, I added a couple of plastic pails scrounged up from the garage and voila, these guys are ready to head out to the lake. When I run the numbers, we’ve got the whole outfit ready to fish for about $150.00 including tax. That’s not bad, especially when you compare it to the cost of getting your kid into hockey, football or most other sports. Best of all, in this sport the parents get to play too!

The game plan is really simple. Knowing that they’ll be on foot and looking for action, my selection of three tip ups is the foundation of the system. Tip ups are easy to rig and almost always provide some action. Pike, Walleye, Bass and even panfish will "pop the top", keeping the kids busy while they search for other fish nearby.

We rigged each tip up with a spool of the plastic coated tip up line, added a ¼ ounce egg sinker and tied on a snap swivel. Then we tied a 1/0 hook to a 3-foot piece of 14-pound mono line and attached this to the snap swivel. Once they locate the first drop of along shore by drilling holes and checking depth with the clip on depth weight, they can place the tip ups at a variety of depths along the drop off edge. Using the plain hook and a tail hooked Sucker or Golden Shiner Minnow, they can set the tip ups so that the bait is a couple of feet above the bottom.

Keeping an eye on the tip up flags, they’ll want to move out deeper and continue drilling additional holes along the drop off and out into deep water. Here the jig rods can be set up with the plain hook, split shot sinker and small bobber. For Crappies, Perch or Walleye the size 4 hook tipped with a small to medium size fathead minnow is probably going to be the best bet. For Bluegills and occasionally Crappies, the size 6 hook tipped with a Wax Worm, Maggot or other small grub will probably do best. Experiment with the depth and set the bobber so that it holds the bait anywhere from a few inches to as much as several feet above the bottom. Perch and Walleye will want to hold closer to the bottom. Crappies and sometimes Bluegills can suspend several feet above bottom, so they’ll need to keep trying different depths.

Now that all of the rods and tip ups are in operation, it’s time to take turns drilling holes as they move along the shoreline searching for areas where the action is best. Concentrating on depths where they found action in other areas will really help. Over time, there will be key areas that seem to always produce and they’ll be able to put together a list of predictable starting places. This is a pro-active approach and it will always work best when they keep moving and covering water.

After all is said and done, this basic kit of goodies to get a family out on the ice and catching fish isn’t much more expensive than a nice dinner and a movie. Best of all, this really is the gift that keeps on giving. As the years go by, they’ll gain experience and knowledge, they’ll be able to add new tackle and other tools that make ice fishing simpler and more productive. Every time they return home, they’ll eat good and sleep even better and best of all they’ll be doing it together.

"Jeff Sundin is a full time professional fishing guide in Deer River MN and member of the Up North Pro Staff and founding member of the Northern Minnesota League of Guides"

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