Kids and ice fishing: Some advice from parents with experience around the Chicago area

Parents share what has worked for them in getting kids out for ice fishing around the Chicago area and, more importantly, enjoying it.

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J. J. Mertins, “almost 3,” celebrated his first fish through the ice with Zoey Grinman joining in on a pond. Provided photo

J. J. Mertins, “almost 3,” celebrated his first fish through the ice with Zoey Grinman joining in on a pond.

Provided photo

When several people sent stories of kids ice fishing, I asked the parents for advice.

Daniel Sala went to the beginning.

“Since I brought Oliver home from the hospital when he was born, I put him in front of the TV and made him watch fishing shows as a baby,” he messaged. “Before he could even walk I had him out by the water and around myself and my dad fishing all the time.

“When he was 3 and we had safe ice I bundled him up and went to a small pond loaded with panfish. I started him off with bluegills on jigs and waxies and eventually got him on bass on minnows and tip ups.

“For me the key was to never keep him out too long, especially if the fish weren’t biting. He would lose interest if we did stay out without bites. I usually stay out with him two to three hours. I have a heated pop-up that he can warm up in but he prefers to stay outside with the older guys where the action is (tip ups).”

Oliver Sala, 8,with a good largemouth bass caught on a tip-up while ice fishing a pond in West Chicago. Provided photo

Oliver Sala, 8,with a good largemouth bass caught on a tip-up while ice fishing a pond in West Chicago.

Provided

Sala uses the trick many parents know.

“I always make sure that if he’s not catching anything as soon as I hook a fish I hand him the rod,” Sala messaged. “Or if a tip-up flag goes up, we let him get it. This really builds his confidence in ice fishing and makes him want to go even more.”

Two weekends ago, Tom Shumowsky had four of his six children, aged 12 years old to 4 months, ice fishing on Channel Lake.

“The keys to getting them out is to just have fun,” he messaged. “It’s not all serious when we are out. I let them run around and just be kids. Also lots of snacks. I usually go out for four hours with them but sometimes on longer trips we will make an entire day of it.”

Asher Shumowsky with a yellow bass caught ice fishing on Channel Lake. Provided photo

Asher Shumowsky with a yellow bass caught ice fishing on Channel Lake.

Provided

Nick Mertins, whose “almost 3-year-old” son J.J., caught his first fish ice fishing two weekends ago, seconded the snacks, and added another basic.

“I always make sure to pack a snack pack!,” Mertins messaged. “This is key as kids get hungry and thirsty when bored. When we get to the pond or lake, I start off by putting up the tent and the heater and close it up so [the tent starts] getting warm. I’ve found by the time we get all the holes and tip-ups set, the kids are usually ready for a warm up!”

He also uses test runs.

“One thing I have done as a parent, now of three boys all of whom I’ve taken I’ve fishing, was to start somewhere local and not too far of a drive!” Mertins messaged. “This give us parents the ability to see if the kids were really into it before committing to a long drive and finding out the kids were not up to it.”

“Then each trip there after I may, if they can handle it, add some time a little bit here and there! Key is listening to them, when they are done be done!”

On a fishing level, he messaged, “I’ve found tip-up fishing to be the best with a couple holes for panfish rods. Panfishing all day with a little one can be hard as you have to move a lot, typically, to stay on the hot panfish bite. But I’ve found if you find a couple decent spots to drill for panfish while keeping a spread of tip-ups out, it can be very productive and make for a busy day of running for the kids! All in all, it’s the best days for me!”

STRAY CAST

The Tribune throwing shade on the WBEZ/Sun-Times partnership is like the fishless ass in a vest sneering at your stringer.

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