For those of you in the northern states—and for all of my Canadian customers—winter might mean spending some time out on a frozen lake doing a bit of ice fishing. It's a meditative way to angle, sitting in a shanty with something to sip and a line in the water, but just because it can involve a lot of leisure time doesn't mean you should be lackadaisical in your approach.

Like any outdoor sport, and especially those involving wildlife and hard-to-reach habitats, ice fishing presents some dangers both to you and to the environment. If you're heading out on the ice this winter, make sure you do it safely and responsibly. You'll want to be around during the spring thaw, and you'll want to leave the fish a healthy home so there are plenty to go around all year.

Test the Ice and Heed the Warnings

All you ice fishing old timers have your own system for determining when the ice is safe, I'm sure, and anyone who grew up with a pond, lake, or river that regularly froze over knows how important it is to make sure the ice will hold you (and potentially your vehicle) before you head out on it. It's important enough to repeat it here, though, especially if any novices might be reading.

Ice is tricky stuff, and though it can be incredibly strong it can also shift, crack, and break apart rapidly. If you're new to a spot, find the local weather service and see what they have to say about the ice where you're thinking of fishing. Talk to some locals, too, and follow the advice given on any warning signs—your life isn't worth ignoring them.

Use O-Rings to Hold Your Bait

Soft plastic baits are used by more than a few ice fishers, but they have the potential to slip the hook and end up at the bottom of the lake—and in the rushing undercurrent of a frozen river, the potential for lost bait grows even more. A simple plastic o-ring can help hold your bait to your hook without any lost effectiveness of the bait, and that's a good thing all around.

With an o-ring keeping your plastic bait secure, you'll lose less bait and make your ice fishing more budget friendly. More importantly, you won't be ditching plastic bait where fish can swallow it and where it can degrade in the water, both of which can create problems for the fish population and the overall ecosystem of the body of water you're fishing in.

Grab a Reel-E Red Rocket Wacky Rig Tool and a pack of o-rings, and you'll have an easy way to load up your bait and keep it from slipping away.

Don't Overcrowd the Ice

For those of you who have shanty spots going back for generations, carry on. For the rest of you, know that ice fishing can be a territorial endeavor. Overcrowding the ice is bad for the fish supply and the experience, so find yourself somewhere it isn't too crowded and set up for a few hours of solitude or some time with a few good buddies, but try not to make it a party affair.