Northwest Nebraska Tourism Director
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Ice anglers are a rare breed. They flock to the frozen tundra with gusto in search of the ice belt’s most prized gamefish, often braving sub-zero temperatures for the chance to hook a big bluegill, mammoth pike or coveted crappie.
I never thought I would say it, but I am now proudly part of that rare breed! All the thanks goes to my good friend, Justin Haag, and new friend, Steve Frederick. As many of you may know, Justin as the Nebraska Game and Parks public information officer and regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine or better known as “the really good photographer.” Steve is a renowned and regionally-known special projects editor for the Scottsbluff Star Herald. It just so happened that on one cold, sunny January day that Justin, Steve and myself were able to go on an ice fishing excursion at Box Butte Reservoir.
I’m an ice fishing amateur, so this whole “brave the cold and sit on the ice” thing was still new to me. In our adventure, I found new respect for this pastime and would like to offer my advice to any other newbies out there.
Ice Fishing for Dummies:
Step 1: Make friends with veteran anglers. That way, if you’re new to the sport, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment to come home empty handed. Plus, they offer excellent tips.
Step 2: Buy a fishing license. If you’re located in Northwest Nebraska, fishing licenses are available for purchase at Chadron State Park, Fort Robinson State Park, Chadron Walmart or Herron Bros True Value. Find a complete list of statewide license vendors here. Or, if you’re real tech-savvy, you can purchase and print them online.
I purchased mine at Walmart and even got a nice holder for it. Now, I display it proudly in my wallet next to my driver’s license.
Step 3: Get there & Set Up. Lucky for me, my fishing buddies had a destination in mind: Box Butte Reservoir. When we arrived on-site around 10:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, I was immediately shocked to see there were already about two dozen groups set up and reeling in fish. Shortly after, we pulled our sleds and equipment out on the ice in hopes of a successful day ourselves. To my surprise, the tents and gear were extremely easy to set up. Drag, pop, click. Just like that, we had shelter! Boy, I wish tent-camping was that easy. The final step was drilling the holes. I left that to the guys and their fancy augers.
Step 4: Fish! This is when the real fun begins. I’ve been fishing during the summer many a time, and I often struggle with my lack of patience. The first hour, the nibbles were sparse, there were no catches and my patience was fading. But then, Justin invited me into the adjacent igloo, which had a fancy fish camera. That was a game changer. I was able to see all the fish coming up to my wax worms through the camera and with a little time and practice, I began to master setting the hook. We fished for a solid four or five hours, only stopping for a classic PB&J sandwich lunch.
Step 5: Document. If you don’t take a photo, did it even happen? As a new ice angler, I was super proud of our batch of fish for the day. Between the three of us, we probably caught upwards of 50 fish. Most of them were bluegills, but there were a few perch and Steve won the catch-of-the-day with a northern pike.
Step 6: Pack Up & Go Home. As they say, all good things must come to an end. Just as quickly as we set up, we packed up. The sack of keepers were thrown in the back of the truck and we started the journey home.
Step 7: Clean & Eat. Justin gets all the credit for cleaning the fish this time around. It’s a long and tedious process from what I’m told. But baby steps, right? Now I’ve learned how to catch ‘em, next time I can learn to clean ‘em. My share of fish is packaged and sitting in my freezer, which is soon to be devoured.
Overall, this was a great experience and once again solidified the claim that Northwest Nebraska is an outdoors person’s haven. We spotted license plates from several surrounding states including Colorado and Wyoming, which only goes to show this is truly a tourism draw. I look forward to expanding my skills in the future and hope others are encouraged to get out on that Northwest Nebraska ice.
Happy ice fishing (while you still can)!
How think should the ice be?
At least four inches.
How do you stand the cold?
Dressing properly is the key to a long and comfortable day on the ice. Here are some important tips:
– Start with thin layers, then layer-on the heavier cloths on top. Good thermal underwear the first layer. The longer you can keep your core warm the longer your extremities will stay warm.
- Make sure you can move around freely. If you’re feeling restrained, lighten up on the layers.
- Layer the short socks, but you shouldn’t need to layer up from your foot much, unless you wear short boots.
- Wear warm high boots that will keep cold and wetness out.
- A good ice fishing suit is the best, but deer hunting gear or good ski/snowboard wear will suffice. Often just a good pair of winter bibs is all you need besides a regular jacket or sweatshirt on top of you layers.
- Make sure you have a hooded jacket and a good hat that covers your ears.
- If you plan on fishing outside, wear thin waterproof gloves if you can’t fish glove-free. Keep them on unless you need to change bait or re-tie.
- If you gotta pee, go pee. You get cold when you’re holding it in. Many lakes have public restrooms even open though the winter.
How do you find good places to go fish?
Make friends with an expert. Or see where other anglers are congregating and go near them. Often a lake will be either “hot” or “not”, so you don’t necessarily need to dive into the crowd.