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SCRATCH THE ICE FISHING ITCH: CAREFULLY

Early frigid weather has many anglers thinking "ice"

Kansas winters are unpredictable. The weather is usually on the chilly side, with most days rising well into the 40s, but every few years, Mother Nature blasts an arctic front into the Sunflower State, pounding daytime highs into the low teens and nighttime temperatures into single digits. When this happens, die-hard anglers begin thinking "ice."

While this can be an exciting way to put fish in the freezer, anglers should be patient and cautious. Because Kansas weather is so variable, cold spells can be quickly followed by warm days, making even thick ice treacherous. Before ice is safe, daytime high temperatures should be below 20 degrees and nighttime lows near zero for several days.

Once ice has hardened, anglers should tread with care, making test holes. The ice should be at least four inches thick. Never go near open water or on rivers near the smallest trickle of current. Also be wary of lakes that harbor large numbers of geese that may keep parts of the lake open most of the winter. Ice should be abandoned at the slightest sign of weakness: cracking sounds, movement of ice, or warming temperatures that create trickling water. Common sense should be the guide.

Ice is the hard-core fisherman’s dream. Sleds will replace bass boats as fishermen trudge across lakes and huddle on stools and buckets, staring intently at small holes in the ice. Sitting on a bucket over ice in single-digit weather can yield full creels of crappie, white bass, and stripers.

Proper equipment is the key to successful ice fishing. The wise ice fisherman always brings more clothing than he thinks he’ll need. In case of emergency, a change of clothes is also advisable, as is a buoyant throw cushion. An ice auger is the handiest way to cut fishing holes; keep in mind that the law allows only holes 12 inches in diameter or smaller. A ladle will help clear ice chips from the hole. Multiple holes should be spaced well away from one another to prevent an unexpected break between holes.

Most anglers build or modify sleds just to pull their gear on the ice, and proper fishing equipment is also essential. In cold water, many hits go undetected with heavy rods, so a light, sensitive rod works well for sensing the slightest strike. A reel with a good drag system is a must for larger species such as white bass and stripers. Jigging spoons, rubber-bodied jigs, and live bait work well under the ice.

With caution the first rule of thumb this winter and continued frigid temperatures, some good ice fishing may be in the offing. But watch the weather, watch the ice, and watch your step.
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