We have encountered a lot of snow and slush on the ice across many areas of the Midwest this winter of 2022. Compared to the last couple of winters, this winter, in particular, has been brutal with a lot of cold temperatures and strong winds. We have a bona fide winter this year and with the tougher conditions, ice fishing can be a little bit more difficult. We have seen some hard-sided permanent fish houses frozen in snowdrifts on some lakes in northern and western Minnesota where the owners might not be moving them for a while.
With these tough conditions and below zero temperatures that we have experienced many days, some anglers just throw in the towel and that is understandable… especially if you don’t have the right equipment. If you have the desire however and just have to fish, there is a way.
With heavy snow and slush, the first step to getting on the ice is having tracks or a snowmobile. I suppose if you were ambitious enough, you could also walk out with snowshoes. Side-by-sides or even ATVs can work extremely well with tracks. For the toughest snow and slush conditions, nothing will beat a snowmobile. Obviously, a snowmobile or a UTV with tracks is a sizable investment as you also will need a trailer to transport the machine to the lake, but here are my thoughts. You can often find some used touring snowmobiles with long tracks for right around $4,000. Granted you can also spend a lot more. If you can get five to six years out of a snowmobile, however, and look at the depreciation, you can often own and use that snowmobile for less than $2,000 per year. As soon as you have to start chaining up your pickup and are getting a tow strap out several times a day, you will probably put that amount of wear and tear and expense into your pickup fairly easily. In regards to UTVs, the machines that are available today are incredible and comfortable with heated cab options. The tracks have gotten much better and more affordable in recent years as well compared to twenty years ago when the only option was Mattracks.
In tough conditions, travel with friends if possible. If you are fishing alone, be prepared. Have a winch or at least a come-along to help get you out of tough spots. Know your physical limitations. With brutally cold temperatures and excessive wind chills, respect the lake. We recently posted a video about fishing on the really cold days and there is a misconception that the fish don’t bite when it gets really cold. I find that the fish do not necessarily know or care how cold the temperatures are above the ice and have had great days on the ice when the temperatures plummeted well below zero degrees. What does make fishing harder is simply finding fish because moving around and fishing outside becomes much more difficult if not impossible.
Tough conditions often find us fishing with portable shacks and when using portable shacks in extreme conditions, nothing beats thermal fabric. Besides holding in heat much better, the thermal insulation also reduces condensation which is important in the cold. Propane just puts a lot of moisture in the air with extreme cold. The Scheels exclusive Jason Mitchell X200 is a rugged heavy-duty two-man flip-over shelter that has an 1800 denier fabric. Unbelievable for warmth and comfort. For heat, I have not found anything better than the Mr. Heater Buddy Heaters. Regardless of heater, a suggestion I have is to use a hose and connect to a larger tank… something like a ten- or twenty-pound tank when ice fishing extreme cold. The larger tank has much better pressure than the smaller one-pound cylinder disposable tanks when the temperatures fall below zero. Also much cheaper.
For combating hard velocity winds that make many anglers stay home, a great little piece of equipment I found is the S2B Shack Anchors. These metal brackets bolt onto the back of the tub for a flip-over shelter and you can then screw the brackets into the ice. Obviously, most flip-over shelters have pole kits that help in the wind, and you can leave your flip-over hooked up to your tow machine, but the S2B Shack Anchors really firm up your shelter in strong winds where you don’t have to worry about standing up, etc.
One final word of advice when fishing in heavy snow and slush… drill the fewest number of holes possible. We have this mentality today with ice fishing where we want to drill grids of holes and move to find fish. That mentality serves us well much of the time, but you have to change your mindset in heavy snow because if you drill a lot of holes… the conditions just keep getting worst each day with more slush on the ice. Pick your spots and get more methodical. Commit to running traffic and spend more time in a set of holes. This slow-down approach however can serve you well come midwinter. Pick your locations based on the time of day and where you expect fish to be moving during that time. Midday might mean sitting in a basin or deep transition while evening might mean a shallow weed edge. Remember if you are going to sit in one spot and run traffic (which can be extremely effective) you have to be in a location where fish are moving and active.