Lakes may freeze in January, but anglers should approach ice cautiously

PRATT -- December in Kansas is an unpredictable month; the weather is usually cold, with most days warming into the 40s, but occasionally, 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."

This year, Kansas has already experienced two arctic fronts with the possibility of another, and ice anglers are getting the itch to fish. This may be one of those winters.

While ice fishing can be a productive way to put fish in the freezer, anglers should be patient and cautious. Because Kansas weather is so variable, cold spells can be followed by warm days, making even thick ice treacherous. Wait for at least 4 inches of clear, hard ice, which can require several weeks of very cold temperatures.

Anglers should tread with care, making test holes near shore before venturing out. Never go near open water or on rivers with even the smallest trickle of current. Also be wary of lakes that harbor large numbers of waterfowl that may keep parts of the lake open most of the winter.

Ice opens a reservoir to all anglers, and fishing can be very good. If the weather cooperates, sleds will replace bass boats as fishermen trudge across lakes and huddle on stools and buckets, staring intently at small holes in the ice. Their patience is often rewarded with catches of crappie and white bass.

Proper equipment is the key to successful ice fishing. The wise ice fisherman always brings more clothing than he thinks he’ll need. For safety, a change of clothes is advisable, as is a throwable cushion, a length of rope and ice spikes. Never ice fish alone. An ice auger is the handiest way to cut holes, which can’t be larger than 12 inches in diameter. A ladle will help clear ice chips from the hole.

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

Caution is always the first rule of thumb in winter, but continued frigid temperatures could produce ice fishing this year. Watch the weather, watch the ice, and watch your step.