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Mind of fishermen on first ice: Starting around Chicago fishing

First ice can be a complex mix of thin strong ice near open water, such as this scene Friday; just as those who fish first ice tend to be complex and different.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Tony Boshold knows first ice.

“I’m only 160 pounds,’’ he emailed. “If water isn’t over my head, we fish. So I feel like I could walk out. Backwaters and back bays aren’t too deep.’’

Granted Boshold is a special case. He was on the gold-medal 2010 USA Ice Team and twice was a North American Ice Fishing Champion.

Those who fish first ice, in some ways safer with its elasticity and clearness than thicker later ice, are different.

Greg Dickson values that difference as proprietor of Triangle Sports and Marine in Antioch.

“What you have with first ice are your true, extremely devoted ice fishermen,’’ Dickson said. “Some people go ice fishing because they can’t go summer fishing. Guys who go first-ice come into the store in October looking for new products. There are people who focus on ice fishing.

“Many of the men we see in winter are construction workers, who have a slow down. These are guys who are hungry for a niche in the outdoors.’’

First-ice fishing begins. I guarantee some have already been out as you read this. Some will be on semi-secret retention or golf-course ponds. Others are out on the best-known early spots with public access: T-Channel on the Fox Chain and Nielsen’s Channel off the Fox River at Port Barrington.

“We probably should be out by [this weekend],’’ said Wayne Krcmar, proprietor at Hermann’s Lowlife Bar and Grill on Nielsen’s, on Thursday.

“The Fox Chain is a very serpentine body of water, areas with backwater areas out of river current and wind,’’ Dickson noted. “There’s a good amount of backwaters, protected from current; and ice will form early. Only negative is many are in residential areas and you aren’t allowed to park there.

“Backwater areas are limited by non-accessibility. Shortly after the backwaters freeze, the shallower bays will freeze, but they are more susceptible to wind.’’

For shallower bays try the south bays of Channel Lake and Pistakee Bay. As cold as the forecast is, ice fishing should be widespread on the Chain later this week–“We will have 4 inches [next week],’’ Dickson said.

The Chain is at its most egalitarian in ice fishing: Millionaires to minions. You can spend thousands on a snowmobile or quad, portable ice shack/sled, power auger and high-end rods. Or start with less than $20. And you can move around on ice like you can’t in summer.

“Ice fishing is the kind of sport you can get involved in for 15 dollars at the start with a small rod with a small plastic reel and a box of bait: As long as you have somebody to drill holes and scoop out the ice,’’ Dickson said.

And early ice, while fraught with danger because of thinness (all ice is dangerous to some degree), is also easier to fish.

“Leave the auger at home, and simply use a spud bar; and use it as a walking stick and don’t out walk it,’’ Dickson said.

The other part of early-ice safety is basic to ice fishing. Partner up.

“Always use caution, use cleats, especially if there is no snow cover,’’ Dickson said. “You don’t want to fall down and crack your head.

“You have to respect this. There is no room for error.’’

Words to wise. But know the difference between fear and caution.