ICE CAMPING 101
Mother Nature sure has a mind of her own this winter here in Iowa. With blizzards spanning across the whole state one moment and tornadoes and thunderstorms rolling through the next, safe ice is becoming a bit hard to find for many folks. Typically by this time of the season, we have ice fished more times than we can count. This year, however, it seems we are spending more of our time watching ice fishing on YouTube from the couch than actually being out on the ice. That still doesn't stop the desire to get out and do some ice camping.
For many people, ice camping is a very foreign concept. The mere thought of sleeping on the ice, in freezing cold temps, just to catch a couple of fish may sound a bit ridiculous, but in all reality, it can be so much fun and pretty simple! Whether you’re brand new to it, or currently enjoy ice fishing and want to take it a step further, read on to see how you can start your very own ice camping adventures.
Ice Camping is not something to jump into feet first. Literally, you don't want this to happen! First and foremost, you should begin with having some basic knowledge of how to be safe on the ice. This comes by doing some research on how to check ice thickness, what to do in certain situations and the understanding of how ice forms. Most ice anglers are aware of these safety tips before heading out to fish. If you are not yet comfortable with this, ask a fellow experienced ice angler to help give you some tips and how to use the proper safety gear. But always remember to use your own best judgment. One man might be comfortable fishing on just 3” of ice, while another may not go out till he sees 6” or more. Now of course that's just for fishing. When you are looking to haul out a huge load of heavy camping gear and run a heater for multiple days, you are going to want some thicker ice. There is no perfect number of thickness for ice camping. Ideally, I love to see a foot or more of ice to camp on. But I have also camped on less, because it was solid, clear safe ice. Again, always use your best judgment.
Now is the time to pick your location. Farm ponds or small lakes are a great way to test out your first time ice camping. They will typically freeze up faster and possibly thicker and you are closer to shore if any emergencies should arise. You also should have some pretty decent luck in locating fish on smaller water. But no matter what body of water you choose to go on, always consider how you plan to get to your destination first. Not everyone has access to ATVs or snowmobiles and not all waters allow them. And if the ice isn’t thick enough to drive vehicles on (that's a whole other experience on its own) you will most likely be hauling your gear out by foot. One piece of equipment I recommend is a sled harness. I currently use my tree stand harness, but anything to help take the weight off your arms and legs will do wonders. Hauling your gear out by foot will also make you rethink what you truly need to pack and what is just added weight to your sled. If you are choosing to drive a vehicle out, one important tip to remember is that just because you see a dozen full size trucks on the ice, doesn't always mean it's safe to take yours. Many people tend to just follow suit and not check the safety of the ice for themselves.
Alright, now that you have your location picked out, let's talk about gear. This is a fun topic. But you must first understand that this will definitely be a trial and error process. Troy and I have been ice camping for a few seasons now, but it wasn't till recently that we finally collected all the pieces to our puzzle. There are going to be many things you can't afford to buy in one season, but don't let that stop you. In fact, sometimes it's nice to start with less to really see what you actually need. You may also choose to take your children out with you or perhaps your dog like we do, which require even more options. There are so many things to consider when it comes to gear and what works for someone else might not always work for you.
But let's discuss the basics..
Shack: Popular versions for this are insulated pop up ice shacks, but canvas tents and even large flip overs can do the trick.
Lights:There are so many ways to trick your hub when it comes to lights, but having a good trusty headlamp on hand is a must! The WS headlamp goes on all our ice adventures! These work great for our early morning hole hoping or chasing flags at night. Additionally, the UV blue light works great to glow your jigs up!
Flooring: This I would say is a bonus piece of gear. While it's not necessarily needed, it is a complete game changer when it comes to warmth and comfortability. The interlocking foam floor tiles work great!
Beds: Sleeping arrangements will depend on the space of your shack and your needs. I remember the first time we ever fished over night, I slept in the sled! I don’t recommend that to anyone! Since then we have gone from sharing a cot (not ideal for 2 adults and a dog), to using gravity chairs (not comfortable for multiple nights), to now Disco Bed cots (our favorite). This is a prime example of trial and error I mentioned. Now add a layer of insulation, like a sleeping pad and top with a low comfort rated sleeping bag and you will be good to go.
Heat: A simple heat source is the popular Buddy Heater. Using a 20lb propane tank (or more) is the way to go for camping. However, we always pack a 1 lb tank just in case. We have been in many situations where we have lost a heat source for one reason or another and knowing you have that extra bottle is nice. **Reminder: ALWAYS open your vents and use a fan to help with oxygen circulation. Using a fan will also help keep the heat down. And a CO detector is worth every penny!
Fishing Gear: This list could go on and on. Of course you need an auger, then a scoop, and a fish finder, and a chair, etc, etc..but your choice of catfish ice rod is crucial. Everyone should have a good pan rod, there's no doubt about that. But what about when you're after those whiskered monsters? You need a reliable catfish ice rod that can battle with any size fish, and that rod is the WST Whisker Stick! With 38” of solid glass, this rod can hold its own. Set it up on a jaw jacker, as a dead stick, or even use a jigging rod. Another fun item to use while ice camping is the rattle wheel. These are a blast to wake up to in the middle of the night!
Now, these are just the simple basics. You can always pack a grill for warm meals. Or any other items to add for your comfort. But the more times you go out, the easier it will be to find out what is necessary to take. I wish you the best of luck this season and hope you get to try a new adventure! But always remember to Respect the Ice.