If you don’t make it fun, they won’t like it. Going out again will be unlikely. In that respect, it’s like summer fishing, only it’s cold as well as boring. Kids need to be entertained and that’s your job. They also do better if they have stuff to eat and numerous cups of hot chocolate to drink. Hot dogs, smokies, marshmallows and s’mores are all quick and easy on a fire near the shore.
Initially, ice-fishing can cost some money to buy a shelter-tent, auger, strainer and tackle. The costs can be reduced by buying used stuff, making it yourself, or waiting for the gear to go on sale as it frequently does at Canadian Tire. A hand-auger works well to do a minimum number of holes and a six-inch blade is much easier to cut through the ice than an eight-inch cutter. A quality gas or battery-powered auger, if affordable, makes it easy to cut as many holes as you need to find the fish.
“Pop-up” tents and shelters are often less than $300 on sale. As the name suggests, they’re quick to put up and take down. Screw-in ice anchors are necessary unless you enjoy chasing your tent. The interior can be furnished with fold-up camp chairs and a Coleman stove that takes white gas or propane. All of your food and equipment can be pulled on a plastic sled, which slides easily even with that load in it. A couple of old mid-sized pots can be used to heat the water for hot chocolate, tea, or to boil the wieners. If no stove is available, consider taking a couple of thermos containers full of hot water or hot chocolate.
If your household has a snowmobile and skimmer to carry gear, then you can travel a greater distance to catch fish. It’s always a good idea to travel in pairs, as snow-machines do break down and the extra machine can get everybody back to the truck.
As far as entertainment for the youngsters, take along a light shovel. (which you’ll need anyway to clear around the holes.) Kids love building snow-forts or just making a big snow pile. A soccer ball will occupy them for a time and, if they are readers, a couple of books or puzzles is a good idea. They always do better if they have a buddy along with them.
Of course, catching a fish will really get them interested, so it’s important that they keep an eye on their lines. Put a bear bell on the tip of their rod so it rings when the fish takes the bait.
Tackle can be purchased, ready to go with hooks, lures etc., for not too much money, but ice fishers have also been using handlines (wrapped around a piece of wood) for centuries.
I suggest not introducing them to ice-fishing when it is very cold, as some activities require you to remove your gloves for a short time. It then takes a long time to get your hands warm again.
Late March and early April are my favourite ice-fishing times. There is warmth in the sun and the long winter is coming to an end.