Hard water fishing isn’t hard for beginners (SAFETY UPDATE 1/11/22)


Carson Stotts (10) shows off his most recent catch, a rainbow trout from McKenzie Lake in Casper, WY.

Hunter McDaniel, Outdoor Editor

(UPDATE 1/11/22): Due to unseasonably warm weather and strong winds, unsafe ice conditions are present on many ponds and lakes typically popular with ice anglers this time of year. Please see outdoor editor Hunter McDaniel’s updates below.

Take note that because of recent weather conditions, ice may not be safe to walk on. It is important to be informed about thickness, and quality of ice in order to be as safe as possible. Make sure ice is not extremely cloudy, mushy, or thin. For extra precaution, it is recommended to drill a hole about every 10 feet and check how thick the ice is. Make sure to stay away from the middle of most large lakes, and fish with a partner. In case of a partner falling through, do not approach the cracked ice: instead bring a rope or anything long and easy to grab ahold of and throw it to the partner. Anglers can also carry ice spikes to use for crawling back up on the ice if they fall in. For more safety tips from Wyoming Game and Fish, click here

It was a late kick off to the ice fishing season, but hard water anglers are in full spin, and welcoming new fishermen as well. Carson Stotts, a student at NC, started his fishing journey as a freshman, and is embarking on his second year. Though he still has a lot to learn, he still shares what hard water fishing is like as a beginner. When asking Stotts to explain his first experiences he says, “I was worried that I was going to fall through, because the ice wasn’t thick enough.” He eventually laughs and states, “It turns out that 6 inches is enough ice to walk on safely.” 

Ice Fishing serves as an exciting way to experience the outdoors. People who take part in this sport are always looking for people to teach and share their traditions with, and with the help of his angler friends, Stotts got hooked. “Reeling in my first fish, and seeing it in the hole was awesome!” he expresses. Ice fishing may seem too cold or boring for some, but it holds a special place to a lot of outdoorsmen. Stotts was lucky enough to have friends willing to share gear and knowledge about it, and he is thankful they did because it gave him something to look forward to. “I was bored, and sick of being lazy, but ice fishing was exciting. I get to hang out with my friends, catch a break from school, and what else am I going to do?” Stotts explains. 

Hard water fishing wasn’t something Stotts grew up doing, so he had to be willing to try it and learn. “That was the hardest part,” he claims, “It was nerve racking to give it a chance.” On the other hand, Chaz Felton, one of the friends that helped teach Stotts the basics of ice fishing, grew up with the tradition already started. He, like the family members that taught him, love introducing new people into something that they grew up doing. “I did like teaching Carson because it reminds me of when my uncle taught me,” Felton says. Though letting inexperienced people use the expensive gear that comes with ice fishing, Felton says, “I was ok with him using my stuff because he didn’t know if he was going to like it, and still spend money on ice fishing stuff he would never use,” which really goes to show how much passion long time anglers have for teaching. 

For beginners thinking about getting started with ice fishing, the basics shouldn’t break the bank. Some of the following items can be repurposed or bought from a hardware store. The most expensive part of the set-up will be the tip-ups. Tools used to drill or break the hole in the ice vary in prices depending on what item is bought, such as; spud bar, hand auger, or motorized auger. Basic equipment includes jigging rod (pole), hooks, split shot, mono (fishing line), and of course bait. Worms are widely used but another effective bait is minnows, which can be bought in places like Rocky Mountain discount sports and other people/places in the area. The last necessary item to purchase is an ice sled, ment for a more efficient way to carry around all the equipment, and move spot to spot with eaze.

Starting something new, like ice fishing, can be scary, but there is always someone willing to teach when it comes to the outdoors. “I was happy I got into it,” Stotts says. “I learned a lot.” It may not be for everyone but it is worth a try. This is only one story of an experience through a beginner’s eyes. Be willing to make your own!