We had to ask, because the implications could be important: can ice fishing spread invasive species?
When questions are raised about fishermen transporting invasive species like zebra mussels from one body of water to another, we generally just zero in on summer and springtime anglers, men and women who take lengthy fishing trips, lug their speedboats from one place to another, forget to empty the ballast water after one trip, and end up introducing unwelcome species to their hometown lakes as a result.
But fair weather anglers with a taste for boat-related vacations aren't the only cause behind the spread of invasive species. In fact, one form of fishing most of us would never think of spreading invasive species is also part of the problem.
That's right: ice fishermen can contribute to the spread of invasive organisms just as easily as other types of anglers. This is because, contrary to popular belief, invasive species are not only carried from one body of water to another by way of ballast water, speedboat propellers, or boat trailers.
When most of us hear the phrase "invasive species," our minds spring immediately to pests like zebra mussels or quagga mussels. However, while these invasives are very well known and widespread, they are certainly not the only pests anglers have to worry about spreading. In fact, arguably a bigger aquatic pest problem is the spread of Asian carp, and these exotic fish are the types of invasive species that ice fishermen are generally the guiltiest of spreading.
Oftentimes, ice fishing enthusiasts will mistake Asian carp species with other more common types of baitfish. When fishermen capture these species and save them for future fishing use, they facilitate a dangerous spread of Asian carp from lake to lake. Once they reach maturity, Asian carp gobble up massive amounts of plankton, effectively disabling and disrupting the food chains of whatever body of water they reside in.
In other words, Asian carp, if allowed to reach a body of water, will more or less conquer it, harming fish populations - and therefore diminishing fishing opportunities - as a result.
In many areas, Asian carp have simply been spreading naturally, without the assistance of anglers. Since the invasive species were brought to the United States several decades ago, they have successfully migrated up rivers and streams to a vast number of water bodies.
Scientists are currently worrying that Asian carp may have managed to swim from the Mississippi - where they have long been present - to the Great Lakes - where they have, until now, been successfully held at bay. If the most destructive species of Asian carp can reach the Great Lakes and effectively reproduce, they could bring about a collapse in one of the world's biggest freshwater fishing economies.
How can you prevent the noxious spread of these invasive species? If you are an ice fisherman or woman, you make sure you are studying your baitfish closely to make sure you don't end up with a few Asian carp on your hands. This guide from the Asian carp Regional Coordinating Committee should be able to help you identify the species.
In addition, make sure you are draining all of the water from your equipment after each individual fishing escapade, and try not to contaminate your minnow stock with new lake water that may have eggs or small organisms in it.