If you don't mind the cold and love a fishing challenge, ice fishing for the hard-fighting chain pickerel may be in your future. Native to the Northeast, pickerel can be fished in ponds, lakes and tributaries. These game fish, relatives of the pike, are aggressive sight hunters and will attack anything smaller that moves in the water, although they prefer minnows, crayfish and insects. Because their teeth are razor-sharp, a wire or steel leader should be attached to a fishing line in order not to lose the fishing rig in the event of a strike.
Dig a test hole in the ice on a lake or pond using an ice chisel or hand auger and measure the thickness of the ice using a tape measure. If the ice is at least 4 inches thick, widen the hole to about 10 inches, then scoop out broken ice and slush with an ice ladle or skimmer.
Hook one end of a nylon coated wire leader to the loop on a metal spinner, then clip a 1/2 oz. split shot weight to the leader about 10 inches above the spinner.
Tie and knot the main fishing line to the loop end of the wire leader using a secure Palomar or clinch knot. Fill a plastic foam container with fresh water and dump the live minnows into it, or line the bottom with wet weeds or grass before placing live crayfish into the container.
Run a hook through the bottom lip of a bait minnow in the middle of the mouth, then up through the upper lip, or insert the hook into the back near the dorsal fin and push it through until the barb emerges. Run the hook up through the tail of a crayfish until the barb emerges from under the tail.
Drop the line into the ice hole and let out line until the hooked end of the line hits bottom. Slowly reel in the line while jerking and stopping occasionally to allow the spinner and minnow to move in the water.
Jerk quickly upward on the line when a fish hits it, then reel the line in quickly. Thread the pickerel on a stringer by running the hook up through the bottom lip of the fish.
Tips & Warnings
- Check with the local fish and game commission for weather and ice conditions, fish limits and restrictions on the size of ice holes.
- Use a towel to hold a pickerel when removing a hook; the skin is covered in a slippery mucus.
- Wear layers of warm clothing when ice fishing, and peel off a couple of layers when digging the ice hole to allow sweat to evaporate.
- Attach ice cleats to heavy boots to avoid slipping and falling on the ice.
- Do not fish on ice less than 4 or 5 inches thick if the ice is clear, and double that for cloudy or white ice, which is half as strong.
- Avoid cuts from a pickerel's sharp teeth when removing a hook or threading the fish on a stringer.
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