Download your free 24-page guide to ice fishing from the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. It’s especially helpful for beginners. The guide has advice on how to find fish, gear and gadgets, what to wear, and how to stay on top of the ice.
What to Do in a Breakthrough
If you break through while on foot, don’t panic. Your heavy winter clothing, especially a snowmobile suit, will not drag you down. Instead, if you remain calm, it provides excellent flotation.
To climb out, turn toward the direction you came from and put your hands and arms on the unbroken surface. Work forward on the ice by kicking your legs and using those nails, if you have them, to claw your way onto the ice. If the ice breaks, maintain your posi- tion and slide forward again. Once you are lying on the ice, don’t stand up. Roll away from the break until you’re on solid ice. Once you’re on safe ice, get to shelter and warm yourself immediately.
More there on what to do if you go through while driving a vehicle. That aside, there’s good stuff on ice fishing.
In selecting a site at an unfamiliar lake, move in among any group of ice anglers present. They usually have found a good location, and a certain amount of friendly crowding—short of “horning in”—is tolerated, even encouraged. Good manners in summer dictate plenty of elbow and casting room, but that doesn’t necessarily apply in winter.
If you must do your prospecting, cut your first hole close to shore and drop in a little bait to prime it. (Crumbled egg shells, which twist and catch the dim light as they settle, easily attract minnows—and they bring the larger fish in their wake.) Then start another hole a little farther out. In this way you keep active and warm, and you should locate your quarry more quickly.
Not all fish bite in winter. A smallmouth bass caught through the ice would make headlines—at least in some counties of Wisconsin. But lakes with such fish as bluegill, perch, northern pike and walleye often provide larger catches in the winter than in the summer.