I do not recall the last time we had decent ice so early, not on so many lakes anyway. For those sportsmen who will have some days off from work this should make them very merry elves. Remember, though, early ice is hazardous ice. Any time you walk on ice you place yourself in a hazardous situation, but especially so early in the winter.
Fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we will not be losing ice any time in the near future, and in fact ice should continue to build. Be cautious on any ice that has a heavy layer of snow. Snow acts as insulation, and it hides weak spots. Remember all of your ice-fishing safety rules.
Do not go onto the ice alone.
At least one member of your group should carry ice rescue tools which includes a floating device at the end of a strong rope. The person who carries the rope should be the last person in the group. Normally you should walk single file. The lead person should carry a spud bar to test the ice ahead as he walks, and cut a hole every several yards to determine how thick the ice is.
How thick ice must be to call it safe is a matter open to debate. I will make no suggestion about ice thickness, except to note that black ice tends to be stronger than ice which is full of bubbles and layers of crust.
Often overlooked is keeping a change of clothes in your vehicle. Should anything happen to get you wet, you are in danger of frostbite and hypothermia. A change of dry clothes and a bath towel will go far to increase your comfort and decrease the possibility of serious harm.
Along this same line, carry a hand towel on the ice so you can dry your hands after handling bait, fish, or anything that gets your hands wet. Then, also have a spare pair of gloves, or in very cold weather, mittens.
Some nifty newer gadgets for ice-anglers have become available. Some I have had time to evaluate.
The Lindy Grub Getter separates sawdust from maggots, or other grubs. Anything that minimizes the amount of work you must do with your fingers, and with your gloves off, is a great help.
Not a new concept, but worth mentioning because it comes from a recognizable company is the Glow Grub, by HT Tackle. Whenever there is snow cover on the ice, when the sun is low in the sky, and really any time when you fish through the ice, jigs that glow often are key to making good catches. I now carry my glow jigs in a separate box so they do not get mixed with my other jigs.
You can see how these jigs glow by placing them close to your eye with your hands cupped tightly to block all light. They really do work.
Many ice-anglers like to fish in groups. Ice-fishing tends to be a more gregarious sport than most other types of fishing. Not long ago Clam Corp. came up with the Trap-Link which allows ice shelters to be connected so you can move from one to another without being exposed to the elements.
Early in the ice-fishing season, especially, I prefer to stay mobile so I carry minimal gear. In years past all I carried was a plastic bucket, bait, a small tackle box, and two jigging rods. Now I consider more gear to be essential so my mobile fishing kit includes a sled. By good fortune I found a sled that was molded to securely fit plastic buckets, a propane cylinder, a small battery exactly the size I use on my ice-fishing sonar, and an auger, either gas or manual. Plus there is plenty of room for other things. It is wide enough that it is not at all tipsy.
Keep your eyes open for ice-fishing gear in your travels and you can put together a kit which includes some very clever, functional things. One of the more common is a top for plastic buckets that includes room for tackle under hatches, and a soft cushion seat.
My standard operating procedure is pulling my sled to what I consider to be a good area, then drilling several holes nearby. Just for this reason, drilling a lot of holes, I bought a gas-powered auger several years ago. Then it was a buyers' market after the second of two consecutive winters when there was very little ice-fishing, and I was in no hurry to buy the auger. I was able to chose from several that were on clearance sales. Now I could not do without it.
Unless there is a drastic change in the weather pattern, it looks like a long ice-fishing season is ahead of us. Enjoy it.