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Ice fishing on a budget can save money without sacrificing fun

Preventing worms and minnows from freezing allows you to use the leftover bait on your next fishing trip, ultimately saving you money. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

These are, indeed, tough economic times. Enjoying a peaceful afternoon on the ice definitely aids in forgetting about some of life's financial hardships, unless of course, the fishing trip is contributing to your monetary troubles.

Keeping spending to a minimum can be difficult but it simply takes diligence.

Stay close, travel light

Fuel usage contributes to one of the greatest costs of an ice fishing trip. Even though gas prices are much lower compared to the past couple ice fishing seasons, it still adds up quickly. And gas mileage drops dramatically when you're driving a big four-wheel drive truck onto the ice. You just don't see that many small cars out on the ice.

Since we have so many wonderful lakes situated throughout the area, it's not hard to find a body of water within a few miles of your doorstep. The closer the lake, the less fuel you'll need to get there.

Lightening your payload can also help. If you've got a half-chord of firewood in the back of your truck, it'll have an adverse effect on your gas mileage. In other words, leave the extra weight at home.

Manage your bait

It's pretty common to forget a container of waxworms or larvae in the vehicle overnight, only to find them frozen the next morning. And how many times have you left the minnow bucket in the truck bed or even in the fish house for a day or two, ultimately resulting in a solid bucket of ice?

You wouldn't think a couple dollars for worms or a five dollar bill for minnows would matter much, but just think how much money you could potentially save if you extended the life of your bait. Over the course of the year would it be $30, $50, even $100 if you fish a lot?

The savings would undoubtedly compound quite quickly if you simply kept your live bait from freezing. Storing waxworms in the pocket of your fishing jacket while you're angling, not lying directly on the ice, will keep them lively. Once returning home, always store bait in an area that is cool, but above freezing.

Keep a few fish

Putting a few fish in the bucket not only guarantees your family will enjoy a wonderful fish dinner, it can help alleviate some of your grocery costs. Just think, if you ate fish once per week and saved the cost of $8 for a main dish, you'd save $416 over the course of a year.

Just be sure you only keep what you plan to eat and stay within the possession limits set by the Department of Natural Resources. Otherwise it could cost you a whole lot more to pay a fine for the infraction.

Think before you buy

By separating items into two categories; "wants" and "needs", you'll be better able to control impulse purchases. Do you really need that purple and yellow spearing decoy with the Vikings helmet painted on the tail or could you function without it?

Snacks for a fishing trip can rapidly drain your wallet too. Buy items in bulk at the grocery store instead of purchasing single items on the way to the lake. Not only will you save money, you'll have enough snacks left over for the next several ice fishing outings.