If you are new to ice fishing, consider contacting a local outfitter. There is a cost, but you are usually guaranteed a shelter, a heater, and your holes will be drilled for you. Some even provide ice fishing rods, reels, and bait and tackle.
Check your conditions
If you’re confident enough to go on your own, be sure to check ice conditions and weather reports before heading out — especially with little ones. Taking children out in -30 C temperatures isn’t fun for anyone. Also, be mindful of changing temperatures that can weaken ice conditions. Plan ahead, but if you are unsure when you arrive, stay off the ice. Safety is most important. Weather aside, it’s good to start kids off with short ice fishing stints, then lengthen the time spent on the ice as their age and interest grow.
Try pre-tying lines with your kids’ help before heading out. It is a great way to teach them how to tie proper fishing knots and helps prepare them for the day. I like the Palomar knot; it’s strong and fairly simple to learn. If you think they are ready, your young anglers can help with the hooks and weights, or you can finish prepping the rods alone. When you are packing and prepping the night before, be sure to let the kids help.
I like to use the drop shot method, where the hook is suspended over top of the weight. Depending on depth, a quarter-ounce cylindrical weight with a zero-twist size two hook works best for perch and pan fish. Allow approximately 30 to 40 cms between the hook and the weight. This will keep the bait off the bottom and in the strike zone, and it also limits snags. Minnows work best, but consider small soft plastic baits as well.
Tools of the trade
Once you have arrived, you need to get the kids and equipment out onto the ice. If you don’t have a snowmobile or ATV, consider a large toboggan for transport. Walking out on the ice can be good exercise, but keep in mind that children are eager to get fishing.
A Navionics app on your phone is a great tool. It shows water depth and will give you a location reading. I also keep my cell phone close at hand for pictures and emergencies.
Pack a snack
Part of your family ice fishing gear should include something to cook with. I always have something warm to eat while on the ice. A fuel-burning stove or propane burner is perfect for things like soup or pasta. A couple of vacuum-sealed flasks of hot chocolate go nicely as well.
Don’t forget life jackets. I put them over my children’s snowsuits for the ride out and back. I call them their ‘redneck’ floatation suits. Adults should wear floatation suits too, if they have them.
Nothing takes the fun out of an ice fishing adventure faster than cold children. Dress them appropriately with snowsuits, hats, mitts and waterproof insulated boots. Even if it doesn’t seem that cold out, you will all feel cooler once you are on the ice, and that increases as the time goes on.
Keep warm and dry
I always pack an extra set of clothes for the kids which I leave in the vehicle. My little guy once fell in an ice hole when we were playing a game of tag at the end of the day. Fortunately, he only got wet up to his knees, and we were able to quickly head back to shore and change his clothes.
When drilling holes, I like to keep them at least 10 to 15 feet apart. This way your little anglers are far enough from each other that their lines won’t get crossed under water, but still close enough to enjoy each other’s company. An 8-inch auger is a good size for multiple species of fish.
Targeting perch and pan fish, like blue gill and crappie, is your best option when fishing with little ones.
Targeting perch and pan fish, like blue gill and crappie, is your best option when fishing with little ones. It’s always nice to hook a few bigger fish, but with children it’s mostly about keeping them entertained, and most children are happy to catch anything.
When the fishing slows down, or the children are getting a little bored, encourage them to explore their surroundings. Making snow angels or a snowman on the ice can be very memorable and can add to the fun. Bring hockey sticks or shovels to keep them busy and warm.
My son and daughter enjoy looking through the ice holes when we are on clear shallow water. It’s better than an aquarium and we all learn about how fish behave in their natural habitat.
Create a positive experience
My children like to eat what they catch. If you haven’t filleted a fish before and you’re game to try, do some pre-fishing online research or ask a friend to help. A fish fry is a delicious dinner and a wonderful way to reflect on the day.
Ice fishing with your family is all about having fun and making happy memories. A little bit of planning will ensure everyone is looking forward to the next outing.
Carrie Cartwright is passionate about fishing and has participated in everything from tournaments to charity events, all while balancing her home-based business and family life.