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January 26, 2012

Special Guest Dad Ben Cohen-Leadholm Takes Us Ice Fishing

Ice fishing boys
Our friend and today's special guest blogger Ben Cohen-Leadholm is one of those guys that sorta pisses you off because he's thought of a gazillion awesome things to do with kids that you haven't. Ben is the author of the family activities blog Kids Are Awesome But So Am I, helping parents reclaim their mojo through kids’ activities that don’t suck. He is the co-author of Have No Career Fear: A College Grad’s Guide to Snagging a Job, Trekking the Career Path, and Reaching Job Nirvana. Find him on Twitter (@parentingmojo), Facebook (www.facebook.com/kidsactivity), and Email (blswes@gmail.com). Here, Ben has a great idea for a fun activity that'll get you outside on a cold February day: ice fishing.

Ice fishing could probably benefit from some re-branding. Because ice fishing is one of the best (and sadly misunderstood) winter activities around, especially for kids.

Think about the simple yet compelling ice fishing equation: enjoying the outdoors, appreciating nature and wildlife, hanging with family and friends, imbibing some “warming” drinks, and snagging fresh delicious fish you’ll get to eat that night. Plus, there are all the stories you’ll be telling your friends over beers (or whole milk) from the day’s adventures. So push any ice fishing stereotypes out of your mind that you might see on a show like Ice Men on the VERSUS network – those caricatures are both entertaining and ridiculous. For example, you’re not going to get frostbite, you’re not going to fall into a fishing hole, and you will not be defending your catch from bears. Promise. 


If you do not have any friends or family who ice fish, then the easiest way to experience and enjoy ice fishing is with a professional guide. That single decision will be your most important one, because a professional guide instantly transforms what could be a complex, labor-intensive activity into a simple and easy one. 

Here’s what you get when you pay for a professional guide: local knowledge of the best and safest fishing spots, knowledge of the best fish to catch and eat (i.e. in the Northeast, it’s Perch, Bluegill, Pickerel, and Trout), all the necessary equipment and supplies (i.e. rods, reels, auger, bait, heater), and labor (i.e. drilling the holes, setting up shelter and equipment, filleting the fish you catch). With kids in the picture, a charter is key if you do not already know any ice fishing rock stars who can lead the adventure. 

Second to your guide, the next most important detail is your clothing. Granted, ice fishing is a winter activity that’s outdoors, so it’s understood that it will be cold. But the point is to over-prepare for the cold. It’s much easier to remove a layer from your child if he’s warm than to heat him up when he’s cold, under-dressed, and miserable. Aside from packing normal winter clothing, consider bringing a plethora of the disposable hand and feet warmers. They work wonders, and kids really dig them.

In addition to uber-warm clothes and disposable hand warmers, don’t forget to bring the essentials for your kid’s time outside in the snow. This means a camera, snacks and drinks, extra gloves and hats, and if possible a sled or shovel for messing around during potential downtime on the ice. Here’s a decent ice fishing gear checklist that’s also helpful to glance over. 

Next, don’t forget a fishing license for your state, because without a license you can’t fish. Most states make it easy to obtain the license online, and many states also offer a short-term (and much less expensive) fishing license for those who don’t expect to fish again during the season. Here’s a web site that will help you get a fishing license for your state

Once you’re on the ice, remember that your kid’s the boss. Above all, you want a happy kid, whether that happiness comes from catching piles of Perch or simply building and destroying forts in the snow while you’re doing all the fishing. (Remember the suggestion of bringing a shovel or sled in case your kid is not super engaged in the fishing?) 

To have your kid doing more fishing than sledding, though, it helps to proactively think of many ways to involve your kid in the whole process. For example, set-up responsibilities are usually winners, such as choosing drilling hole locations, scooping minnows from the bait bucket, and preparing the tip-ups (clever contraptions holding both the fishing line and a flag that pops up when a fish is hooked). And any activity related to actually hooking a fish will be a success, like watching for any raised flags or helping to reel in a catch. But bottom line, if the fish are biting, your kid should be pretty pumped. 


At the end of the day, ice fishing is a simple winter activity that gets the family outdoors, that teaches kids about nature, and that ultimately takes care of dinner. So take a moment to look up a local guide online or just call that buddy who knows how to ice fish (and has all the gear). The unique experience will be one your kid talks about for weeks afterwards.





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