What is ice fishing? Wherever there's ice, there's ice fishing. It takes place all over the world, from the snowy wastes of freezing cold Siberia to the stunning, remote Canadian north, the northern USA, and of course the northerly parts of Scandinavia. Here's what you need to know about one of the ultimate snow-country sporting pleasures.
Ice fishing is an ancient way to catch fish in winter, and as far as anyone can tell the people from the far north have been doing it for thousands of years. The traditional method meant catching fish with a line and hook dropped through an opening in the ice on a frozen lake, river or pond. Sometimes they'd use a wooden fish-shaped decoy to attract the fish, which they'd spear with a wooden weapon. The rod, line and fish hook came later, and today it has gone totally technical. Ice saws, massive drills and skimmers have taken over in the USA. Luckily, in Scandinavia it's still a lot more mellow.
The solitude of being on a vast expanse of ice surrounded by snow is special. It's so extraordinary that people get hooked on it – pardon the pun! It's also a fascinating way to reconnect with the human race's past, doing an activity that's been done for millennia, carrying on a tradition that's probably as old as the human race. It's a magical way to experience the natural landscape, and get intimate with its subtleties. And it brings home to you just how tough the people that live in these remote places need to be, simply to survive.
Fishing on ice takes place wherever there's ice on top of a decent-sized body of water. In Europe there's fabulous cold weather fishing in Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Tampere region of Finland offers an unusually long fishing season kicking off in November, on numerous lakes, and it's family friendly being so close to the city of Tampere. Ramfiord in Norway is another, and the River Lulea in Sweden, near the town of the same name, is another popular ice fish destination. As you can imagine, plenty of our winter holidays offer it, and it's really popular.
How to ice fish? You find the perfect fishing spot, then drill a large hole through the ice to the open water. Use an ice chisel to widen your hole and get your equipment ready – you'll probably be supplied with special lures, rods and so on, as well as a portable seat. You use a skimmer to keep the hole free from ice, otherwise it can close up again really fast. Once your line is set, you sit tight and watch for a bite.
The lakes in northern Europe are well stocked with fish like perch, zander (pike), rainbow trout, sturgeon, salmon, brown trout and grayling, all catchable from the ice. The biggest fish caught ice fishing? There have been some monsters, some reaching more than 32 pounds in weight and almost the same size as the fisherman!
More essential ice fishing tips... you can always peel off layers if you're too hot, but you can't add them if you don't have them. As always in the snow and ice, layers are essential. The layer closest to your skin need to stay dry so wear moisture-wicking polypropylene shirt, trousers and socks. Cotton gets wet and stays wet, so isn't advisable. Your next layer is the warmth layer, and that means wool. Fleece and down are also good. Make sure your last layer, the windbreaker layer, actually keeps the wind out. Down jackets often have a wind-breaking layer on the outside. If you choose wool or fleece, always add a nylon windbreaker on top, simply because the wind can cut through even the warmest wool layer. Make sure your hat has ear flaps. Good winter boots provide several layers of insulation.
- Ice fishing kicked off as a way to survive the winter. Now it's mostly a winter sport
- There's a great old saying about ice: thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky. If the ice is at least 10cm thick and you're fishing alone, it's usually safe. If you're fishing in a group you need the ice to be at least 18cm thick
- In the USA ice fishing ranks 4th behind sledding, snowmobiling, and ice skating as the most popular outdoor winter activity
- Ice floes move. Fishermen have had to be rescued in the USA when the chunk of ice they were fishing from floated off into open water
- 15,000 anglers take part in the world's biggest ice fishing contest, held at Gull Lake in Minnesota, USA. It involves drilling more than 20,000 holes in the ice
- Early ice fishing spears were made from wood, bone or ivory
- Ice shacks are often built over good fishing holes in the USA, for people to shelter in while they fish. They're rare in Europe, where fishing is more about peace, quiet and nature
- In particularly good US ice fishing areas, you'll even find semi-permanent ice fishing shanty towns built on the ice
- Lake Simcoe in Canada is the nation's ice fishing capital, with masses of lake trout, herring and whitefish to catch
- Temperature changes are dangerous, making the ice get unpredictable thinner or thicker
- A fish's body slows down in the winter and reduces its need for oxygen, making it a bit easier to catch
- West Pubnico is a fishing village in Nova Scotia. The name means a hole that has been cut in the ice for fishing
- To form ice the water must be 4 degrees C or lower for a lake, and 0 degrees Celsius for moving water
- Ice anglers catch 14 million fish during the ice fishing season in Wisconsin USA alone, made up of 11.7 million panfish, 866,000 northern pike and 750,000 walleyes
- An ice fishing pole is shorter than an ordinary rod because you don't need to cast, you just drop the line into the hole in the ice
- Ice makes loud cracking noises. Luckily it doesn't mean it's about to actually crack, it’s a natural phenomenon
- It makes sense: local bait attracts local fish
- Canadians fish on the ice more than any other nation
- In the year 2000 alone, Canadian anglers spent a total of 4,489,296 days fishing on ice
- In South Korea, a massive annual ice festival attracts nearly a million people, thousands of whom take part in a contest to catch fish in the frozen Hwacheoncheon River