When Kansas goes into the deep freeze, a certain
group of hardy anglers head for frozen lakes to enjoy a unique opportunity – ice fishing.
Cold, clear waters beneath the ice harbor the same fish as always. The trick is finding
them and presenting a bait in front of their eyes – one that cold-blooded, sluggish fish
need not chase. When everything’s right, fast fishing action makes the sometimes brutal
weather above ice worth it. Thick ice allows anglers without boats to
fish a lake’s best habitat with minimal gear. Most pull a sled with fishing tackle,
ice auger, a couple of rods, and a bucket. Ice cleats make walking safer on slick ice.
Lures are usually small and flashy or brightly colored and the action is vertical jigging,
so jigs, spoons, and slabs are common selections. Ice augers are used to drill holes through
ice, and residual chips are then dipped out with ladles. After that, the angler sits and
jigs – often using two rods – and hopes to detect the notoriously light bites of cold
fish. Though cold fish are not often fighters, big gamefish can put up a tusssel on ultralight
gear. Caught fish are simply left on the ice while fishing – chilled and preserved fresh
by nature’s own refrigeration. Ice anglers often target white bass, wipers, striped bass,
and crappie, but other game fish such as largemouth bass and channel catfish can also be caught. Frank Wheeler of South Hutchinson is a veteran
ice angler who always joins the large gathering common on Cheney Reservoir near Yoder Cove.
The past week has produced good wiper fishing for most who braved the weather: talking head Ice anglers look for structure such as river
channels, submerged brush, or rock piles. Usually, group activity helps point out hotspots.
Ice fishing can be very social as large groups gather, but always be courteous and respect
others’ space. For obvious reasons, ice fishing can be dangerous.
Fish only on clear, solid ice at least four inches thick. Make test holes when venturing
out and avoid ice over current or where large numbers of waterfowl have been roosting. Holes cut in the ice may be no more than 12
inches in diameter or 12 inches square and all length and creel limits apply. Dress warmly,
be safe and enjoy this occasional Kansas fishing opportunity.