On a fairly regular basis, I drive toward downtown Madison along the shores of Lake Monona on John Nolen Drive. On early winter days, my kids and I place odds on when we’ll first see ice shanties pop up on Monona Bay. It seems like a mere skim of ice over the bay sparks fisher-men and -women into action with their augers and tip-ups and quiet patience.

Long a tradition in Wisconsin – including several millennia prior to the arrival of European settlers – ice fishing offers a connection to culture, history, nature, and with luck, a fine meal of bluegill, perch or walleye.

In many ways, ice fishing is an easier start-up than warm weather fishing since you don’t need a boat. What you will need is: a fishing rod, an ice auger, a bucket with a seat, jigs, and bait.

Ice fishing rods are shorter than freshwater rods and some anglers don’t use a rod at all, but a tip-up. Tip-ups use a flag attached to the reel that tips up when the line is released from a fish strike.

A simple hand-operated ice auger, like the one my grandpa always used, is the most straightforward and inexpensive way to start — but you can always upgrade to a power drill attachment or a gas-powered motor auger.

Most ice anglers suggest a tote bucket with a seat to keep direct contact with the ice to a minimum while you wait for a bite. And as for jigs and bait, the discussion never ends… Some fishers use plastic lures while others recommend live bait like wax worms or minnows. It depends on the type of fish you’re angling for.

Jigging, by the way, is the practice of fishing with an up and down motion in the water, as opposed to spinner bait that you drag through the water.

If you need more resources or ideas, here are a few links:

Check out these Wisconsin dudes who caught “monster” bluegills in this 2021 video:

In Case You Missed It…

News from Nature Net Members​​

Aldo Leopold’s birthday was celebrated on January 10th! He was born 135 years ago in 1887. Check out more about who Aldo Leopold was on Aldo Leopold Nature Center’s website. The Arboretum recently released a graphic version of ‘Understanding Stormwater and Healthy Watersheds: A Community Guide.’ Learn more about how stormwater affects our neighborhoods in a visually interesting way! Ice Skating is back! Check out the City of Madison Parks website to see where you can rent skates and get back on the ice!

More from Nature Net…

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Sick of sitting in the house all winter? Check out one of the many Nature Net Sites and see what they have to offer! Check out our environmental education resources for projects, associations, and inspiration!  See what’s going on in the upcoming months in Madison and the surrounding areas.

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Betsy Parker, Nature Net Director
Karissa Niederkorn, Nature Net Intern