Covering thousands of square feet of water eight inches at a time where only weeks ago you covered the same thousands of feet with just a touch of a throttle? That is the joy of first ice!
First ice is a great time to fish, just keep in mind some very basic safety advice.
Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, bring a spud bar with you to check for ice thickness in front of you and wearing a PFD is not a bad idea, at the very least have a throw rope in your sled or on your person. It may not be you that falls in and its a great tool to have in case you unfortunately need it.
There are few times in a year that fish are as accessible and hungry as first ice, and nearly all species at once can provide a great experience for a first time ice fisherman or kids.
There are many reasons for first ice being such an active time for fish and fisherman.
Shallow weeds are still green in the first 3-4 weeks of first ice which bodes well for panfish as they seek shelter from the very aggressive gamefish. The green weeds also mean available oxygen, just the same as you and I get it from the air, fish filter it through the water. Green weeds provide that oxygen
and as the weeds die off fish will seek deeper water where oxygen levels are higher, inlets to the lakes where oxygen rich water pours in or they will slow their metabolism down to the point of almost lifelessness.
In the same shallow water predators like Northern Pike are actively feeding on baitfish, making a set of tip ups a great way to catch them.
The panfish that reside in the shallow weeds are still hungry too, and presentation can be a bit larger than normally thought of when ice fishing. #10 jigs or larger are a great way to attract big gills and slab crappies wanting to add weight for the winter. Its a great time to try some small jigging spoons for panfish. Tip them with your favorite grubs and it may surprise you how much action such a large presentation can provide.
Maybe one of the best things about fishing first ice is the amount of untouched water. Many folks are still thinking about hunting, or the holidays and if you afford yourself some time in the early season there is a great chance you can have an entire lake to yourself. Fish have not been pressured since the boats left weeks ago and they are hungry.
You will want to learn to be mobile at this time of year. The weed growth will cause the fish to be spread out much like they would be in late fall, but with the ice being relatively “thin” it is still comfortable to drill many holes with a hand auger.
Of course the make up of the lake its self will have a lot to do with where the fish are and what they eat but as a rule of thumb first ice is a great time to fish. Please be careful and enjoy!