Friday, February 16, 2018

Ice fishing with small children by Briana Bizier

Ian Bizier holds a small mouth bass
“Ice fishing with a toddler? You’re crazy!”

It may sound far-fetched, but ice fishing is actually a wonderful activity for small children. What’s more, getting out on the ice is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the lakes region, to spend quality time outside with your children, and to shake a fist at old man winter!

Ian and Sage Bizier
After extensive testing with my two little ice fishing assistants, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks for taking small children onto the ice. Hopefully this will give you the confidence to get outside and enjoy all that Maine has to offer - even in February.

Fishing with small children is not about catching fish. Serious fishing takes commitment. Unfortunately, fish tend to bite first thing in the morning and just as the sun is setting, times when it can be very difficult to convince small children (or their parents) to bundle up and head outside. Serious fishing also requires time and patience, both qualities that can be a challenge if your fishing buddy is a toddler.

When ice fishing with small children, it’s helpful to remember that the purpose of the trip isn’t actually to catch as many fish as possible. Instead, taking a child fishing is an investment in the future. If your two-year-old loves ice fishing now, chances are she will love ice fishing when she’s ten. She might even love it enough to wake up in the dark and set up traps with you by flashlight.

Be safe. Ice has to be four inches thick to safely hold the weight of a person, five to seven inches thick for a snowmobile, and a foot thick to hold a car. 

But how can you tell how thick the ice is on any given lake? Ask around! Local bait shops are happy to share information about ice conditions. You can also check websites like IceShanty.com, or you can look for other ice fishing parties. This time of year, you may see ice fishing shacks or even
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pickup trucks on a frozen lake. If you see shacks, other fishermen, and especially cars, you can stride across the ice with confidence.

Another safety concern is footing. Conditions on the ice change every day, and sometimes the surface of a frozen lake can be quite slick. YakTraxs or similar cleats help adults keep their footing, while a sled or backpack can help transport kids comfortably across the ice. When my youngest was a baby, we pushed his stroller out onto the ice.

Finally, if you’ve never been on a frozen lake before, you may be surprised to realize ice makes noise. It’s normal for ice to gurgle and, yes, even crack under your feet. 

Let your kids help. To a young child, there aren’t many places as exciting as a bait shop. Why not let your assistant tag along on your pre-fishing errands, or help you to “choose” your bait fish? They will feel more invested in the fishing trip if you let them assist with the preparations, even if their “help” consists of carrying a single water bottle to the car.

Sage Bizier enjoys hot chocolate
Once you’re on the ice, chances are your little fishing buddies will be fascinated by the whole process of drilling holes and setting up traps. When we go ice fishing with our kids, they want to help us do everything. Yes, this did lead to losing a scoop down a hole on the first fishing trip of the year, but it’s also led to a seven-year-old who knows how to use an ice auger and spends the summer talking about how much she misses ice fishing.

Keep them warm. The most expensive outfits in our house are the kid’s snow suits. 

Why spend all that money on something we only use in the winter? Because nothing ruins a fishing trip faster than a cold kiddo!

Before you go ice fishing with small children, make sure you’ve dressed them well. Their bottom layer (and yours, too) should be wool, silk, or polypropylene. Avoid cotton, which gets wet and cold faster than you can say, “Don’t stick your foot in the water!”

Hand and foot warmers are readily available at many stores. Our strategy is usually to put foot warmers in boots before we leave the house, and to open a pair of hand warmers in the parking lot.
If you have an especially curious or fast toddler, it also pays to bring a spare pair of mittens. Even on the coldest day, toddlers have an uncanny knack for getting wet.

Feed them. Fruit, vegetables, and a balanced diet may be the rule at home, but I am hereby giving you permission to feed your small children junk food while ice fishing. We usually bring an assortment of snacks which are easy to eat without taking off your mittens, like lollypops and pretzel rods.

A thermos of hot water and a few packages of instant noodles, as well as a plastic mug and hot chocolate mix, tend to brighten spirits on the ice. For longer ice fishing trips on days when the wind is low and the sun is shining, we light a fire and cook hot dogs. If you’re lucky enough to catch a few pan fish, those make an excellent addition to the picnic!

http://windhamyouthlacrosse.usl.la/Bring a few extras. When the fishing is slow, a frisbee can go a long way. If the conditions permit, ice skates can be a lot of fun for both kids and adults. And an impromptu adult versus children snowball fight is highly recommended (by the children, at least).

Know when to head in. Even if the fishing is great, when our children start to complain about being cold, we pull up the traps and head for the shore. Why? Because I want my kids to love the winter.
I want them to have fun when they’re outside, and to grow to enjoy Maine just as much in the snow and ice as they do in the middle of August. When my children look back on winter fishing trips with Mom and Dad, I don’t want them to remember being miserable and cold. I want them to remember special food, laughing with their parents . . . and maybe even catching a fish or two!

You don’t have to fish! You may not own any ice fishing gear, or you may not have the slightest interest in ice fishing. Don’t worry - you can still have fun on the ice. With a sled and a backpack, you could have a wonderful, unique picnic on the ice. A frozen lake is also a beautiful place for cross-country skiing, especially during a moonlit evening. Maine’s lakes are breathtaking any time of the year, and our winters are too long to spend indoors.

So, get outside, enjoy nature, and take the kids with you!

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