Ice Fishing Etiquette: 10 Things You Should Never Do

Ice Fishing On Lake of the Woods_Lakeroad LodgeIce fishing is one of the fastest growing segments of fishing across the Midwest.  With it’s popularity, there are a lot of people from all different walks of life and ability levels out enjoying the sport.  Etiquette is crucial as the activity grows.  With so many newbies getting into the sport, we thought it would be good to list the 10 things you should never do when ice fishing.

  1.  Do not drill holes in an ice road.  With more and more snow on the lakes, it might be easiest to fish on an ice road.  This however is a huge “no-no” and is one of the things that can get everyone fired up.  What happens is it basically will flood the road to the point in many cases, the entire road may have to be re-routed.  Nobody will be happy with your poor etiquette, whether you know better or not.  Wherever you ice fish, please do not drill holes to fish in the ice road.
  2. Do not drill holes near another fish house.  Did you know that between the weight of the snow combined with the weight of the fish house, punching a hole too close to a permanent fish house will flood the entire area.  Water gets on top of the ice and underneath all of the snow creating slush and a very difficult situation for getting to and from the house.  When it comes time to move the house, either you are dealing with slush which makes the job way harder or in some cases, the fish house freezes in.  Do not drill holes near another fish house.
  3. Do not set up too close to others.  It might be tempting if you heard there is a good bite in the area or you see someone catch a fish, but those with good etiquette will not set up close to others who are already there.  Especially on Lake of the Woods where you are often fishing big flats, the fish are moving around.  Getting away from others might be the best thing you can do.Ice road slow sign, Zippel Bay Resort, Lake of the Woods
  4. Don’t speed on the ice roads.  The road signs on the ice say slow down or 15 mph for a reason.  Lots of vehicles pound the ice daily.  That combined with driving fast will prematurely wreck the ice.  When you drive too fast, a wave is formed under the ice that will get out in front of your vehicle.  Even though you may not bust the ice up immediately, it causes damage to the ice.  Please don’t drive too fast on the ice roads.
  5. Do not add to the garbage problem, rather, Keep It Clean, Have a Plan.  Don’t be that guy or girl.  Some people who leave garbage behind are simply selfish to everyone who enjoys and respects the natural resources.  Others aren’t intending to be selfish, but maybe get just a bit careless as they forget a bag of garbage outside their fish house, some cans blow out of their pickup bed or when they are leaving the plastic bags on the ice from the day before are frozen in.  Most people are well intending.  Please plan ahead.  Use black or colored garbage bags that show up against the white snow.  Secure your trash you take off the ice.  Have a plan on where you will deposit the trash after leaving the ice.  Pick up for others if they missed something.  With 2.7M angling hours on Lake of the Woods last year, imagine if there are just a few mistakes the amount of trash left behind.  With such a great lake, we cannot afford to leave any trash behind.
  6. Do not come on the ice without a restroom plan.  Plan ahead.  With the popularity of ice fishing along combined with reliable heaters and good fish houses, anglers are spending more time on the ice.  Naturally anglers will have to go to the bathroom.  Sleeper fish houses and portable bathroom, have good etiquettewheel houses enable anglers to spend the night on the ice and eventually, a bathroom break will be necessary.  Just have a plan.  Does the resort or outfitter have bathroom facilities on the ice available to you?  If you have your own fish house and are simply paying to access an ice road, what are your options?  Do you have a place to use the restroom in your fish house?   Does the ice road operator have bathroom facilities on the ice for you to use that are meant for you and not customers renting a fish house?  Does the resort or outfitter whom you paid to access their ice road have a dumpster or other means of disposing of your human waste?  If you have a wheelhouse with a reservoir which holds the waste, do you have a plan to stop at Log Cabin Bait near Wheeler’s Point or Howard’s Cenex in Baudette which are both winter dump stations for your tanks?
  7. Don’t blow off others who need a helping hand.  Driving by someone in need is poor etiquette. It is very possible not everyone has the knowledge, experience or equipment you have.  If you see a fellow angler who might need a hand, help them out.  Pay if forward, it may come back to reward you some day.  It might appear they did something, well, that wasn’t the brightest.  Maybe they didn’t know better.  Maybe they have a lot going on in their life.  Stop and give them a hand.  Are they stuck?  Is their auger stuck in the ice?  Does their truck not start?  Are they having a tough time putting up or taking down their fish house?  There are a lot of opportunities to lend a helping hand.  Often times, it makes you feel better than the people whom you helped.
  8. Do your best to release fish healthy as possible.  Whether you caught a fish too small, a fish in the protected slot that has to be released or a trophy that you snap a few quick pictures of and get back in the water, there are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to releasing fish.
    1. Be prepared.  Have a needle nose, jaw spreader, measuring tape and camera ready to roll.
    2. Know the rules.  On Lake of the Woods, you can keep a combined limit of 6 walleyes and saugers per day.  Up to four of the six can be walleyes.   Walleyes 19.5″ – 28.0″ must be returned to the water immediately.  One walleye over 28″ may be kept.  For pike, the limit is three with all fish 30″ – 40″ having to be returned immediately.  One pike over 40″ may be kept per day.
    3. Release fish quickly.  The quicker you release the fish, the better.  Even small fish in deep water over 30 feet have a good chance at surviving if you get them back in the water quickly.  Often times, a little side to side movement in the hold will get them to kick.  Pushing them down and pulling them back up can actually harm the fish as they aren’t meant to swim backwards.  Side by side motion is the best.
    4. Don’t take the fish outside if it is really cold out.  Their eyes, gills and fins can freeze in a hurry.
    5. Don’t hold a fish by it’s eyes.  Keep your fingers out of the red parts of the gills.
  9. Respect the many small businesses on the lake and the spots they have plowed for their paying customers.  Don’t be that guy or gal, it’s poor etiquette!  We hear the stories way too often.  It goes like this…  a sleeper fish house business or resort is planning on moving some houses to a different area.  They maybe plow a new road or extend an existing.  They plow out some spots to move their fish houses to and as they are plowing they see a pickup truck with a wheelhouse coming down their newly plowed trail.  After explaining this area is being plowed out for their paying customers but “I would be happy to plow you a spot off of the main trail”, they get the attitude, “this is public water, I can put my house wherever I (beeeeep) want!”  Technically and by the letter of the law, yes.  Ethically, really poor.  Please don’t be that guy or gal.Row of fish houses on Lake of the Woods
  10. Don’t skip out on paying.  Maybe you are arriving out on the ice at 1 a.m. as you left after work from the Twin Cities.  You get to the lake access, drive out on miles of plowed ice road, set up and go to sleep until sunrise and the morning bite.  Do you pay the resort or outfitter for that first or second or third day on the ice?  Maybe you are fishing with a resort and the ice guides are checking on you often, giving you some helpful tips and are really pleasant to talk to.  They are also the guides who may be cleaning your fish late that night and were driving the ice road or bomber trail at O dark thirty.  Do you tip them?  Most are really good about all of this.  Please don’t skip out even if you can.

Ice fishing up at Lake of the Woods or really, anywhere, is really an enjoyable way to pass the winter season.  Etiquette comes down to doing the right thing.  Most have great etiquette.  Some don’t choose to have any, others simply don’t know any better.  The bottom line, we are all in this together.  The more we can do to help out or be considerate of our fellow angler, the better off we all will be.


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