Get to the middle of the lake without a boat.Ice fishing is a great equalizer. Let's face it, it's cold. That means everyone on the ice is doing their best to stay comfortable and warm in sub-freezing temperatures. Plus, no one is fishing from shore and no one is using a boat. So every man, and woman, is on equal footing."That's the thing about ice fishing," says long-time ice fisherman Mark Beauchesne. "Everyone is on an equal plane. Not everyone has a boat, canoe or kayak to access the water. With ice fishing, everyone can walk on that pond. You don't need a boat to get there."But you do need basics like a fishing license (if you're over 16), warm clothing, bait, some essential gear and a bit of strategy to hook the swimming prizes under the state's frozen waterways.And you'll have to learn how to use some tools - among them, one to create the hole in the ice and one to set up the bait."Everyone seems to start with a yellow perch or chain pickerel," says Beauchesne. "Those are ice fishing's most user-friendly fish."Whether it be fishing inside a heated and furnished bob house or sitting on a bucket under the open sky, there's a rush of adrenaline when the flag is released on a tip-up signaling there's something on the line."When the flag goes up, everyone yells and goes running," he says. "You don't know what you have."In the end, you have fun.Gear BoxIce fishing is done under the ice and anglers must first break through the surface with an auger. The Jiffy Legend XT (jiffyonice.com, $429.95) is a powerful and sturdy ice drill that can carve out 8- and 10-inch diameter holes.Once drilled, it's your choice on how you want to fish. Frabill's classic wood tip-up (frabill.com, $19.95) not only signals when a fish is on the line, but also has removable spool shafts for lubricating and cleaning.Feel like jigging? The light Ice Hunter Series 26" Quick Tip Combo (frabill.com, $34.95) is designed to try your luck for perch, crappies and other panfish in shallow water.Going local, Black Magic Tip-Ups, ($30-$35) based in Rochester, has worked to develop a more wind resistant model. No more wondering if it's a fish, or just a flag blown over by the wind.Impressive FactAnglers can set up to six lines per person at a time in most NH waters while ice fishing.Expert AdviceMark Beauchesne has been a passionate ice fisherman for 30-plus years. The Penacook native has been a registered fishing guide since 1995 and N.H. Fish and Game's advertising and promotions coordinator. He also taught ice fishing to school kids while coordinator of Fish and Game's Let's Go Fishing program for 10 years.What are the essentials? It all starts with proper clothing. With today's technology there is no excuse for being cold. If the water is frozen, typically it is cold. If you're cold it won't be fun. Period.How should you dress? From head to toe, like mom said. Dress in layers. You can shed layers when you are active and put them back on when you're not. Wear a warm hat from an artificial fleece-like material. Have a wind and waterproof barrier for your upper and lower body. For socks, I like wool. Boots are important. Waterproof is good and have an insulation layer too. Ski pants, snowmobile pants are good. As for gloves versus mittens, gloves have more dexterity, but mittens are warmer. I like Glomitts (convertible glove mittens).What equipment do you need? If you are over 16 you need a fishing license. You need something to put a hole in the ice. You can use a tool called a spud or a chisel to a four-stroke gas powered auger. You need a container or bucket for bait. An insulated bucket or old cooler works. The live bait is shiners, golden shiners. Then you need a sort of device to put the bait down the hole. There is the jigging road or jigging stick. That's a miniature fishing rod. Then there is a tip up, a mechanical device with a spool that sits below the surface of the ice with a frame shaped like an X. There is a mechanism that releases a flag when a fish hits the line.How do you know where to place your lines? You can use contour maps to figure out where to place them based on the species of fish you are fishing for. Cold water species like trout are in fairly shallow water. Black crappies may be in a basin in deeper water. I sometimes use a diamond-shaped pattern and stay in the middle to scan around looking for a flag. Some people use a straight line. I typically put them at three different levels and watch for a response. Then I put them all at the same level.How do you keep the holes from clogging with ice? You don't. But there is a tool called a skimmer or slush remover. It's basically a slotted spoon and slows down the process of ice forming.Is it really fun to sit outside in the cold? It's a blast. You are busy. It takes time to set up, check your bait and jigging is a lot of fun, especially going from hole to hole. You can barbecue and play frisbee. We've been fishing while playing hockey and wiffle ball games. It's all what you make of it.
This article appears in the December 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine