Wisconsin bass and ice angling marvel Maggie Carsello shares her top ice fishing tips for a great (and warm!) day on the ice. Whether you are a seasoned professional or just starting out, everyone has something to learn from this fun-loving angler.
When the summer sun fades and the days get shorter, the snow forms plush pillows on the once-green land and lakes start to form a thin film of ice, the cold-averse angler might take nature’s cues as a sign to tuck away their rods and tackle box for the year and wait (im)patiently for next spring and open water.
But for those truly thrilled by the sport, it takes a lot more than a little cold to keep them away from what they love. For these anglers, hard water and cold days mean only one thing:
It’s finally ice fishing season.
“Winter has always been miserable for me, but when I started ice fishing, it made me appreciate the cold and the snow,” said Maggie Carsello (maggiejo_outdoors). “I was thrilled when I first learned how to ice fish, because that meant that I could fish all year round. It gave me something to look forward to about winter.”
Carsello is an avid angler and social media inspiration for girls and young women who aspire to enter the outdoors space. A resident of Stoughton, Wisconsin, the Madison Chain of Lakes is Carsello’s “home water,” though this angler travels frequently to attend bass-fishing tournaments across the United States. She uses her platform of nearly 50k Instagram followers to give great advice to beginner anglers.
“A lot of dads reach out to me saying, ‘My daughter loves your content and always asks me if she can go on my Instagram and see your new posts.’ That is so rewarding to me,” said Carsello. “People also reach out to me with questions. Lots of folks wonder how to get started with ice fishing, how to learn, what gear to use…I am very fortunate to have this space where I can use my knowledge to connect more people to the sport.”
Carsello has been an angler since before she could remember. Her earliest memories are sitting on a boat as a toddler with her father, gripping her little-kid fishing rod and watching in awe at any fish that tugged her line. But this aficionado began her ice fishing journey later in life, when a few of her fellow classmates at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point took her out on the ice for the first time.
“I was hooked right away,” said Carsello. “You can fish your whole life, but ice fishing requires an entirely different technique. Because the fish behave differently, you need different equipment and a different way of thinking about fishing…it was completely new territory for me.”
To kick winter dread to the curb and get yourself enjoying your favorite sport all year long, Carsello offers these expert tips to bring you success reelin’ in big ones beneath the ice.
Don’t Be on Thin Ice – Safety is key – always, all the time. Especially when ice fishing in the early season, make sure you are checking ice thickness and that you are wearing your floating ice suit. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends staying off the ice entirely if it is less than 4’’ deep.
Read the Fish – When it comes to life under ice, inconsistency is (funnily enough) key. Carsello recommends trying out different tactics and observing how the fish react to the changes until you find a winner.
“Snow cover will affect how much the fish can see you through the ice. Note that early ice fish are not as finicky depending on how much snow cover there is,” said Carsello. “You can also fiddle with vertical versus horizontal presentation and changing the depth you are fishing at. Sometimes I bang my jig on the bottom of the lake to stir up dust so I can read how the fish react to that and adjust from there.”
“As long as the weeds are green, bluegills hang out in them. Try to find holes and deeper depressions in the weeds if this is the fish you are going for,” said Carsello.
Have the Right Equipment – “My ice fishing has definitely improved by getting better gear,” said Carsello. “You don’t need the flashiest or the most expensive gear, but, as you get out there more, you start to realize that it’s worth investing in good gear to be that much more successful.”
Don’t be Afraid to Move Around – Spoiler alert: Fish swim. If you keep coming up empty, explore different sections of the water column to increase your chances of getting a bite.
“Fish are always on the move!” said Carsello. “Don’t feel like you always have to fish that bottom six inches of the water column. The fish like to come up for it sometimes, so play with your depth as you go.”
Gear Up for the Cold – Winter is no joke. If you know, you know. That’s why Carsello’s biggest tip by far is this: “If you want to enjoy your time ice fishing, you need comfortable, warm gear.”
Because staying warm means staying out longer, Carsello recommends (for women anglers) wearing the StrikeMaster® Allie Bibs and StrikeMaster® Allie Jacket.
“The women’s suit by StrikeMaster® is so comfortable. It looks good and feminine without being too much. I have gotten so many compliments and good feedback about this suit,” said Carsello. “And the best part: It floats!”
To keep the cold at bay, Carsello suggests using a mat to create a barrier between you and the ice. And don’t underestimate the power of a pair of warm gloves.
Good Company Is Key – There is nothing quite like the camaraderie of fishing with a group. Not only will you have the time of your life, but you’ll improve your skills by learning from others and get to try out different gear.
“If you want to have a great time, don’t go out by yourself,” said Carsello. “The camaraderie of it all — talking and having a good time and making pizza rolls over a heater — is one of the best parts of ice fishing. My most favorite memories of the sport are the days I shared with my friends.”
Fry It Up – When in Wisconsin… To Carsello, there is nothing better than a good ol’ Wisconsin fish fry. To get to the eatin’ faster, Carsello relies on the Rapala® Electric Fillet Knife. Maggie’s favorite fish to eat are bluegill, perch, crappies, and, of course, walleye.
Finally, Just Get Out There – “Above all else, just get out there. There is no better way to learn,” said Carsello. “What you need to succeed is so individual. Don’t be afraid to try things and do what’s best for you.”