Bait, Gear, and Safety in Northern Indiana, Michigan

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“I like to eat fish a lot,” says Cody Waldschmidt of Dowagiac as he loads into a parking lot to go ice fishing on Monday night. stone lake in Cassopolis. “Fish caught through the ice tends to taste better.”

His pal, Christian Bryant, agrees, adding: “You don’t need a fancy boat.

Anglers have been creeping up on local lakes over the past week as we ride through good weather to pile up ice. We have daily freezing temperatures, especially at night (last night may have been an exception). And the lack of new snow avoids the insulating cover which can slow the formation of ice.

Channels in lakes are known to freeze early because they are shallow and protected from water movement and wind. But the weakest and most treacherous parts are where there is a spring or water flowing in or out of the lake, like the melting of the banks, which riddles the bottom of the ice with peaks, valleys and crevices.

the Indiana Department of Natural Resources says you need at least four inches of ice to walk on, but adds the annual refrain: “No ice is safe ice.” You have to check it yourself when walking carefully on the ice, first with a spud bar (more on that below), then with an auger.

“Don’t take their word for it,” says Bonnie Kelley, owner of Kelley’s Bait & Tackle on Pleasant Lake in Lakeville for 57 years.

Anglers, including someone in a slum, fish on Stone Lake in Cassopolis on Monday night.

If there are people clustered in one area of ​​the ice, she says, it’s okay. But don’t make any assumptions. Carefully test the ice. Out of respect, she adds, do not encumber the other fishermen.

As usual, anglers regularly fished on the ice at Worster Lake in Potato Creek State Park in North Liberty, where the park said Sunday the ice was five to seven inches thick in its main portion.

Pine Lake in LaPorte already had six to seven inches of ice last weekend, much of it clear enough to see fish through, running Brent Samford an ice derby on January 29 on Pine, said.

For some reason it froze earlier than the other lakes. He says some winters near Stone Lake, which is connected by a canal, freezes first and sometimes Pine.

The small, quiet lakes of TK Lawless County Park in Vandalia, located in an all-natural setting, are also ice-fishable.

Around Edwardsburg, people fished popular lakes like Juno, Paradise and Diamond, says John Foreman, owner of Edwardsburg tackle store Trading Post.

South Bend’s Pinhook Lagoon is a quilt of black, gray and white, divided by lines of cracks. The west end turned to open water on Tuesday due to thawing temperatures. Underground springs make it difficult to judge. An experienced fisherman fell through two inches of ice on Pinhook in December 2017. Witnesses saw him and called 911, but he died after rescuers took him to hospital.

From December 2017:Dowagiac man dies after falling through ice at Pinhook Park in South Bend

Anglers can become lax and “lose their fear of the ice,” says Don Wilkie, of Rusty Hooks Bait & Tackle in Niles.

“A lot of them just go out to have a good time,” Foreman says. “They shouldn’t be out there drinking.”

But doesn’t a little pinch warm you up?

“It’s fake heat,” he replies, echoing what rescue workers have known for decades: Alcohol can make hypothermia worse.

The ice is forming on Sunday but is also leaving cracks along the shore near a public access site on Hudson Lake.  Ice thickness and quality can vary on a given lake from shore to shore.

Take the bait

For fish like bluegills and crappie, local stores suggest using minnows, whitetip (which are maggots or fly larvae), mice (a type of worm with a breathing tube that looks like a tail) and waxworms (the caterpillar larvae of wax moths, also known as bee moths).

Some anglers are more successful with plastic baits, including the brightly colored dot patterns of the Wonder Bread variety. You don’t have to keep them live. But Foreman, noting “I’m old school,” says he and many anglers think live bait is more effective.

“Would you eat a rubber apple when you could have a real one?” He’s joking.

Be a good steward, though. After fishing, do not throw live bait into the water or onto land. Also release any small unkept fish.

Footsteps remain Monday where they had melted and re-frozen on Stone Lake in Cassopolis.

Bare minimum

Stick and fishing line. You can start inexpensively with this old-school setup, but of course you can spend more on advanced hardware. Plus $2.95 for 50 white bait tips.

Fishing license. From the state where you are fishing.

Spud bar. This is a long stick with a blade at the end that you use to test the thickness of the ice as you tread carefully. “You should be able to hit twice without going through the ice,” Wilkie said.

Ice picks, strapped to your body. If you fall in the water, you’ll use the spikes to dig into the surrounding ice and get out. “Otherwise you just keep sliding off the edge,” says Wilkie. You can buy an inexpensive pair at bait shops or simply make them by driving long, pointed nails into short wooden dowels.

Auger. Don’t lend your drill to someone else, advises Kelley. They may not treat it as their own. If they hit the blade against the ice, you may need to replace the blade, which can cost around $50, which is half the cost of the auger itself.

Cody Waldschmidt, left, with an auger in hand, and Christian Bryant, both of Dowagiac, head to Stone Lake in Cassopolis to ice fish Monday night.

A floating boat cushion attached to a rope. Sit on it while fishing. If someone else crosses the ice, you can throw the cushion and get the person to safety. If you don’t have a pillow, bring a rope anyway — to save yourself or someone else.

Life jacket, worn on your body. If you crash on the ice, it will keep your head above water so you can breathe while your body hyperventilates and loses control from cold shock.

Whistle. So you can call for help when you fall in the water. You can’t scream.

A buddy. Go with someone if you can, for your safety. Otherwise, tell someone where and when you are going.

Good insulated and waterproof boots. Normally, physical activity in your legs like hiking or skating helps keep warm blood pumped to your feet. But that’s not happening here. And wear wool or smart-wool type socks. Cotton will zap your heat when wet.

good to have

Ice flotation suit, made with buoyant material that will keep you from sinking. It does the job of a life jacket and helps crawl out of the water. There are “floating jackets” and “floating bibs”. Clear H20 Tackle in Edwardsburg has a few at around $200 each, more or less.

Ice hut. You can get a lightweight, portable cabin with a frame and fabric, like a tent, which usually sells for around $200 or more. You can huddle there as a family, sheltered from the wind, and use a lantern to warm up (with care) or a small stove to heat food.

In line

Iceshanty.com: Nationwide discussion forums and general advice.

Ice Fishing in Northern Indiana: Facebook group with 5,000 members as a general forum for questions.

More from today’s column:Looking for winter fun? Try Winter Nights in Vandalia, an ice fishing derby or free skating

Follow Outdoor Adventures columnist Joseph Dits on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures. Contact him at 574-235-6158 or [email protected]

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