Don't procrastinate, now is the best time to get ready for ice fishing season

I don't want to bring on winter any faster than is necessary, but we need to think about ice fishing right now, even though we haven't seen first ice yet.

Ice fishing is not everyone's proverbial cup of tea, but please don't say that you don't like ice fishing if you haven't tried it. People who say that they don't ice fish because of the cold need to give it a go. Because if properly equipped, ice fishing can be accomplished without freezing to death.

In the spring, fishermen wait until the last minute to buy their new licenses. More licenses are sold on April 1, the first day that licenses take effect, than on any other day. Anglers procrastinate, to be sure. Likewise, fishermen wait until they see ice forming on their lakes and ponds before they get their gear ready for ice fishing.

I'd like to offer a few tips to help make your ice fishing more enjoyable. Tackle shops generally do a bad job regarding ice fishing equipment and gear. The shops order inventory too late and often don't have merchandise for the start of the season. Then they run out of gear and don't reorder because they don't want to keep it on their shelves after the ice melts. I suggest that you buy any ice fishing equipment that you need, right now, before it becomes hard to find. I also recommend that you buy enough to last for the season and even buy enough to carry you over for the start of next year's season.

I'd suggest that you purchase a few pairs of latex gloves, the kind they wear in a doctor's office. Being cold is awful, but being cold and wet is totally unbearable. Wearing a lightweight pair of latex gloves under your regular gloves or mittens is a godsend. You can pull your gloves off to handle a fish or to tie on a jig and your fingers will stay dry and comfortable. If those fingers get wet, it will put a quick end to your ice fishing outing.

Conversely, wet feet can cut your trip short and can leave your skin with permanent damage. The waterproof quality of boots can fail over time. Every season, I spray my footwear with a product called "Camp Dry," that makes my boots as good as new. Camp Dry has a bit of an odor to it, so make sure you do the spraying in the garage and not in your house.

Definitely replace the line on your ice fishing reels right now, if you haven't done it already. The light lines, 2- and 4-pound test, that we use on our ice reels, tend to hold twist more than summer weight lines do. Replace it now.

It's probably too late to have your ice auger sharpened in time to get it back for first ice, but waiting until next year is an even worse idea. Get it to the shop right away.

One funny thing about ice fishing is that we don't need to feel guilty about catching and keeping fish to eat. For the rest of the year, the fisherman's mantra is "catch and release." During ice fishing season, that phrase morphs into "catch and release into the grease." Fish filets from critters swimming in ice cold water taste even better than summer fish do.

Feel free to bring home a few fish for some magnificent table fare. Enjoy!

• Daily Herald Outdoors columnist Steve Sarley can be reached at

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