Some people might think I over do it just a bit when it comes to ice fishing, but it's the sport I love the most. As a matter of fact I think about ice fishing all summer long when I'm out in the boat. I spend countless hours marking locations on GPS to go back to once the lakes have that first layer of walkable ice. I spend a good deal of the time in the summer months thinking about areas within walking distance of parking areas. My plan of attack is simple. Mark out places I would look for gills and pike, areas for walleye, and locations for crappie. I don't concentrate on areas out of reach by foot. There is plenty of time to look to those locations once I can drive out. The big thing is the weed beds. each year those edges can change depending on several facts. Number one is lake depth. Number two is water clarity. Light penetration is the key here, and locating the right weeds at the right depth ranges. Standing green is prime habitat for pike and gills, not to mention walleye.
Once I am confident I have all of my ducks in a row for walk out locations I work on other areas of the lakes. I think about mid winter and late ice all summer long. Making notes to figure in areas on the north end to fish as the ice starts to melt away in the spring. Lakes that have accesses on the south with shade protecting the edges from the spring heat of the sun. But back to first ice locations. Some people might not know, but deep lakes are the last to freeze. I look for lakes with lots of area to cover in less then 15 foot of water. Deeper lakes take longer to freeze. So watch the lakes as they form each year, and pay close attention to the windy and calm nights. Some years we get a real cold blast from the north west that pushes huge areas of slush to the south east corners. Most years this is the first areas to walk on, but it is also the most dangerous to be on. Ice thickness can change in those frozen slushy areas fast, so NEVER fish them alone and without the proper safety equipment. Ideal conditions are calm cold nights that cap everything over giving the wind no chance at slushing things up. Nice solid clear ice is the best ice, but it can also make the fish spooky if there is no snow cover. And that's another issue, we do not need any snow before that first 4-5 inches forms, and we don't need much before the first foot comes for that matter. I do like to see a little, even if it's little patchy areas of snow less then a inch or two deep and maybe 6-8-10 foot long or more. I drill in and around these patches of snow to cover my movement above the ice. Fish do look up you know. I can't stress this enough, be safe out there. Don't try to be brave just for bragging rights. It's not worth it. Wear your life jacket. Dave Genz says it all the time. "I've never heard of anybody being found frozen in a lake with a life jacket on." There is so much truth to that. People who wear a life jacket can stay above the water and have a 100% better chance of rescue. Don't wear it, and it becomes a below the surface recovery. So when you take that first step on the lake this year, don't just think about not going threw! Think about the people who will have to try and rescue you. It's not just your life you are putting in danger when you take chances. With all of that in mind, first ice can be some of the most productive fishing of the year. and with the proper safety precautions, I think it's just a matter of days, not weeks before I wet a line. I've done my homework, and I am ready.