Now that southern Wisconsin finally has enough ice on it’s lakes, ponds, and backwaters to be safe, it’s time to take the children out fishing. One of my don’ts for early ice fishing is not to take the children out fishing on “first ice” because of the safety factor. I have always believed that you, besides being a fisherman, are also a father who should always have your children’s safety at the forefront. Be sure to wait until you are sure that the ice is safe and to me, safe is at least 5 or 6 inches of ice. Besides having solid and thick ice, you should keep the children away from pressure creaks, feeder creeks and streams, warm water discharges, and any moving water. Keep them very close to you when fishing and try to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
There’s a certain amount of responsibility when taking young kids on the ice. Don’t just set up your ice shelter and start fishing. Take the time to show the youngsters how you’re fishing and show them the proper use of the equipment that they are using and include a little talk about ice safety. Be sure to have patience with children when first taking them out on the ice to fish. Catching fish is one of the most important elements when taking kids ice fishing, but it also must be a “fun” outing that they enjoy and want to do again. This is why the first few outing with children should be to lakes and ponds where there are abundant fish that the kids can catch regularly. You can see the joy and excitement in your child’s face after they catch their first fish and a few fish on their own.
One good spot to take the kids in southern Wisconsin is to Brittingham Park in downtown Madison’s Triangle area. The local fishing club, the Yahara Fishing Club has an ice fishing jamboree every winter for hundreds of young and beginning anglers. This year’s event was a few weeks ago and despite poor weather and ice was well attended. The Club gives away fishing rods, buckets, bait, and other gear to all the kids who show up to learn and improve their ice fishing skills with members of the Yahara Fishing Club. It’s been proven time and time again that you have to start children when they’re young or they’ll be lost to the sport of fishing forever. Brittingham Park and nearby Monona Bay are locations where panfish, mostly bluegills and crappies, can be caught regularly by children. The fish are on the small side, but there are also some “good” keepers that would keep anyone satisfied and fit into most frying pans. Most bluegills are in the 5 to 7 inch range with a few in excess of 8 inches, which I consider to be a “keeper” bluegill. The crappies average 8 to 9 inches with the bigger fish around 10 inches. There’s also are the odd largemouth bass or northern pike that are also caught on occasion. But, panfish are the most abundant species and bite most of the time, if you keep moving from hole to hole. There are so many holes on the ice, drilled by other anglers, that you can get by without an ice auger, just by fishing holes drilled by other anglers. A spud helps to open these holes up for fishing.
The nice thing about fishing Brittingham Park, Lake Monona, Fish Lake, and Lake Waubesa is that; 1) there is a parking lot close to the ice and the walk is not too far for children. 2) There’s plenty of fish for the kids to catch and they usually bite regularly. 3) You don’t need any fancy equipment to catch these fish. A light and sensitive rod and reel with a spring bobber on the tip to detect light bites, an assortment of ice jigs for pan fish, plastic tails in assorted colors, wax worms or spikes for bait, and a 5 gallon pail to sit on is all that is needed to catch some fish. 4) You should catch some keeper fish, so the children can eat some of what they catch and also something learn something about cleaning fish plus the important practice of catch and releasing fish.
No matter where you live, there are places like this where you can take the kids out to catch some fish and learn something about ice fishing and being outdoors in the winter. Remember, try taking the children to a place where they will have some fishing success and hopefully get hooked on fishing. Madison’s Lake Monona and the Triangle around Brittingham Park are a couple of good locations to take that child of yours on a nice sunny day. Make the day fun and enjoyable and you may have a fishing partner for life. Gary Engberg