Being prepared

WILLMAR -- Though the temperatures barely touch freezing during the day and there isn't any significant ice on the lakes yet, there is at least one person who is ready to go.

WILLMAR -- Though the temperatures barely touch freezing during the day and there isn't any significant ice on the lakes yet, there is at least one person who is ready to go.

Ron Shimek of Willmar, former owner of 71 Bait and Sport, now retired, had all of his gear checked out and waiting weeks ago.

"I've got more time to fish in the winter than in the summer," said Shimek, who used to work in the construction business. "It's like being a farmer. That's the time they can get out there and try it."

He's a rare breed these days; being ready for ice fishing before the first really hard freeze. Nowadays, anglers don't take the time to prepare like they used to.

"Most guys will put it off until the last minute," said Brad Foshaug, who bought 71 Bait and Sport, which is now Brad's 71 Bait and Sport. "But it's a guy thing."


If you have the time to get ready, Shimek has a large number of tips. He's dropped his line through the ice for as long as he can remember, starting in his school days.

"My dad used to come to school and pick me up to take me ice fishing, probably when I was 13 or 14 years old," he said. "I enjoy vertical fishing. In order to vertical fish and enjoy ice fishing, you have to get more finesse in your presentation. Fish are a lot fussier in the winter than in the summertime. The water is cold, their metabolism is slow."

There are many differences between fishing from a boat, shoreline or dock and ice fishing. Start with the fishing rod, which is shorter and check the lines.

"I change lines and get them in order. Make sure your hooks are sharp. Look at what's new, different presentations. Walleyes are the most active in the beginning in shallow water and on flats. As the winter goes on, they'll drop deeper."

He said fluorocarbon lines work best for ice fishing because they are invisible in the water.

For baits, Shimek said to keep in mind that walleyes, panfish, northerns, etc., aren't eating as much as they do during the warmer times of the year. So keeping the bait small -- about one-fourth the normal size -- should work better.

Next is shelter and clothing. Gone are the days of upturned buckets and frostbite-inducing wind chills.

"In the winter time, with the advent of the winter clothing and portable fish houses, you can be comfortable," Shimek said. "The old days of sitting on a five-gallon pail with the wind on your back are over."


Another tip that doesn't change regardless of the time of year is scouting. Knowing where to go and when makes the fishing that much more enjoyable.

"I take a look at where the fish bit during the summer time and those are the lakes I will start on," he said. "One of the big secrets is to hit the shallow lakes first. Gradually work to what's safe."

Finally, Shimek preaches safety. He encourages people to check the ice conditions at least a day before fishing -- in daylight -- and never fish on a lake you haven't checked out.

"Never go fishing in the dark, early in the morning where you haven't checked it out," he said. "My first trip to a lake is in the afternoon to check the ice in the light so I know how thick it is. I'll bring a chisel and a hand auger to check the depth."

And when you're out on the ice, always have your emergency tools with.

"Always carry a set of picks. One on a cord around your next to help if you fall in to get yourself out," Shimek said. "Wear chains on your boots, ice cleats. If you go from snow to glare ice, you can slip and be down on your head in just a flash."

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