Unexciting items ice anglers should carry

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Have you ever watched a fish pull a jigging rod through a hole in the ice? It is a pathetic scene. The rod owner is away checking a tip-up. Someone will yell to inform that angler the rod is going into the water. Bogged down with heavy layers of winter clothing, heavy boots, and ice cleats, the angler makes a mad attempt at grabbing the rod before it disappears. In vain.

I do not care how long that jigging rod line has been in the water without a hit if you leave the line in the water while you are occupied elsewhere something will hit. This is just the way it works.

And it is preventable by using a simple, inexpensive rod holder. I carry two different types of rod holder. One slips onto the side of a plastic bucket. The other has a square base that rests on the ice. Both will prevent a jigging rod from being pulled through the hole in most cases.

Also, rod holders that clamp onto ice shelter frames are available. These may be most useful in one-man shelters with aluminum frames.

If you hook a pike of a musky, how are you going to get it through the hole?

Sure you could grab it by the jaw of the gill plate. This I mention as someone who has been sent to the emergency room twice for pike cuts. Keep your fingers away from the teeth and gills of musky, pike and chain pickerel. They can cut to the bone. Maybe something in pike mucus that inhibits blood clotting. Stopping the bleeding is difficult. The jaws of a big walleye can also do some damage.

A gaff hook is a more common tool for pulling members of the toothy pike family through the ice. If you hook it through the lower jaw, starting from the inside of the mouth, the fish will slide through the hole, so long as the hole is large enough. And it will do so without hurting the fish seriously.

Jaw grippers also can be useful for pulling fish through the ice. These do less visible damage to the fish. Neither should be used to hang the fish for photos. Think about how you might feel if you were hung by the lower jaw. Get the fish unhooked, take your photos, then get it back into the water as quickly as possible with minimal handling.

Of course, you never forget the camera. Some of the most memorable moments of your life probably occur while fishing. Be it a large catch, an eagle perched on a shoreline limb, a coyote on the ice, all of these things can be memories to last a lifetime if you carry a camera. Cell photo cameras are more than adequate for most things you might want to photograph. Compact point and shoot cameras have come a long way.

Every time you go ice fishing your gear should include gloves, mittens, hand warmers, and a towel. Some waterproof gloves are warm enough to wear under moderate conditions. These are a big advantage because there is no need to remove the gloves, except maybe one glove to unhook fish.

If you take off the gloves and get your hands wet, dry with a towel before putting your hands back in the gloves. Once you can not get your hands dry, your comfortable ice fishing time is about done.

Mittens with hand warmers inside are the last resort for warming hands. And if you want to extend ice fishing time they will often be necessary.

Of course, that can be avoided by bringing some sort of heater. A gas lantern can be included among heaters because they do put off a lot of heat. Many an evening crappie bite has been made cozy because there was a gas lantern for warming hands. Propane lanterns provide some heat, and they are easier to use.

Midwinter crappie bites usually, almost always, are between sunset and sometime before midnight. Temperatures can dip quite low. The most important factor is staying warm, especially the hands and feet. This is more important than good fishing methods. Better to be comfortable with no fish than freeze halfway back to your vehicle with a bucket full of crappie clutched in your brittle fingers.

Have some dry comfort clothes waiting in your vehicle. A sweat suit and warm socks are enough. Also, have a bath towel so you can get completely dry.