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Spend a winter day ice fishing

Get a group of friends and/or family together, bundle up and try ice fishing this winter. Ice fishing is a fun, social winter activity best enjoyed as a group.

Anglers should note that the quality of ice over parts of central and southeast Iowa has been reduced by the unseasonably mild weather and Christmas Day thunderstorm. The impact was minimal on lakes and ponds in southwest and across north Iowa.

With a central Iowa forecast filled with high temperatures ranging from the middle 40s to middle 30s and lows ranging from 30 to 20 degrees, anglers will want to proceed with caution and pay attention to ice conditions. Check the weekly DNR fishing report for ice conditions across the state before going out.

At a minimum, four inches of clear blue ice is recommended for fishing. Be especially careful on ice around submerged trees and emergent vegetation, this ice tends to be weaker. If the ice does not look right, find a different spot.

“Most Iowa lakes are full of bluegills, which are the easiest and most often caught during the winter,” said Joe Larscheid, chief of fisheries for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“Start with a no. 8 hook or a tear drop and tip it with a wax worm. Drop the baited hook to the bottom of the lake, then lift it back up about a foot."

Lakes in northern Iowa will have yellow perch and walleye in addition to bluegills.  In the south, crappies join bluegills.  “You catch an occasional catfish, northern pike, largemouth bass, and other species, but not as consistently,” Larscheid said.

Use the DNR's online maps of the lake you are going to fish to find edges of creek channels, fish mounds, brush piles and rock piles that likely hold fish. Printable maps and the online Fishing Atlas are available on the DNR website (www.iowadnr.gov/Fishing/Fishing-Maps). If you have previously bookmarked the fishing atlas on your smartphone, update the link to the new mobile friendly version at http://programs.iowadnr.gov/maps/m/fishingatlas/ to view the latest features.

“You can position yourself right over the habitat, place your bait and lure it front of the fish and can catch a lot of fish per trip,” said Larscheid. 

Use small hooks, small bait and light fishing line. Small jigging spoons are commonly used to catch walleye and crappie. Drop your bait and leave it alone, or slowly jig to attract the fish.

Ice conditions change constantly and its thickness can vary across the lake. Drill test holes near shore and periodically as you move to measure the thickness and quality of the ice. Don’t go out alone and always let someone else know where you will be and when you expect to return home. Carry about 50 feet of rope, a throwable floatation seat cushion and your cell phone.

For more ice fishing tips, visit the DNR website at www.iowadnr.gov/icefishing.

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