An Introduction to Ice Fishing

If you thought fishing was only for summer, then you’re in for a surprise. Ice fishing is fast becoming a popular winter sport and pastime. It is a one-of-a-kind fishing experience that should be considered by all fish lovers. To start off look out for fishing areas in your state’s fishing guide. These guides list areas suitable for ice fishing.

11 Essential Ice Fishing Gear Items

Ice fishing is fast becoming a popular winter sport and pastime. It is a unique type of fishing and with it comes unique fishing equipment. This article will list the basic ice fishing tackle needed for a beginner to ice fishing.

  1. Fishing rods and reels – Ice fishing rods are typically shorter than rods used in freshwater or saltwater fishing. Lengths vary from 24-36 inches in length. Their material are usually made from graphite or fiberglass. For ice fishing a spinning reel will work well but ensure that the line chosen for the reel matches the rod. A fly reel is another option and the advantage of this one is that there is less twisting of the line. Get a rod and reel combo that is balanced and is delicate enough to detect light bites.
  2. Bait and lures – For ice fishing live bait will work the best. Especially if you have a live bait cooler like the Engel 13 quart cooler. Jigs are the best lures for ice fishing. Chartreuse, fluorescent or glow-in-the-dark jigs are often very effective. For live bait, the common ones are wax worms, maggots, spikes, wigglers, and minnows. Live bait are normally used with Tip ups. Get an assortment of ice jigs to keep in your tackle box.  Find a local bait shop near you to get the best bait before you go fishing.
  3. Chisels and augers – A chisel is long-handled blade that is used to chip into the ice or make holes in thinner ice. This tool requires a lot of effort which is why they have been replaced with more advanced tools. Ice fishing requires a lot of drilling on the ise sometimes through 3-4 feet of ice. An auger is what will help to cut through the ice. An auger is a drilling device that looks like a giant corkscrew. Hand augers are effective but the blades need to be very sharp in order to work well. More advanced augers are the power augers that run on batteries or gasoline engines. They are efficient but more expensive and are used for extremely thick ice.
  4. Slush scoop – After digging the hole an ice scoop or skimmer used to clear the hole.
  5. Tip Ups – Tip ups allow you to fish without you actually holding the line all day. Tip ups are a device set above the hole. They hold a small reel submerged in the water with a flag attached at the top. The flag tips up on the rod signaling a catch. They are mostly used for fishing for larger fish like huge walleyes, pike, large whitefish, and lake trout. Most tip ups are made from wood and the best line for a tip up should be heavy and braided.
  6. Ice Shanty – There are various kinds portable shelters one can use while ice fishing. They protect anglers from the harsh cold breeze especially if you plan to spend a long time fishing. Examples of shelters include flip overs, hub style and cabin style.
  7. Warm Ice Fishing Gear – Because Ice fishing is done in winter during icy periods, one has to be properly dressed while fishing. This is to prevent frozen fingers, frostbitten toes and ice covered ears. Wear two pairs of socks; long underwear; wool pants; a thick turtleneck sweater; and a windproof, waterproof and breathable jacket. Make sure your boots and strong with a thick sole. Neoprene gloves and a face mask are also recommended.
  8. Bucket – This is to hold your catch and it can also act like a seat on the ice while you fish
  9. Heater – Portable heaters are necessary to keep you warm especially on icy cold days
  10. Ice fishing Sled – Your equipment can easily be carried on a sled and pulled along on the ice.
  11. Metal Ice Cleats – These are attached to your boots to make walking on the ice much easier and safer.

Where to go Ice Fishing

Ice fishing takes place on lakes and ponds of all sizes. To find the right fishing place ensure that the ice has a minimum thickness of 4.5 inches. Larger water bodies provide a wider diversity of fishing opportunities. Most state-owned lakes allow ice fishing, whereas county or municipally-owned waters may prohibit it. It is always good to check with the responsible authority to make sure the area has to be posted safe for fishing.

The first thing to keep in mind when going ice fishing is to stay as warm as possible. Layering is a must when it comes to ice fishing. Start by wearing thin layers first and bulkier ones on top. Also make sure that you are comfortable and can freely move around. It’s better to have extra clothes in your bag. To be safe, don’t go ice fishing alone. Always go with a friend or a group of people. Try and fish near others who are already on safe ice. Some necessary safety equipment to carry are ice picks. These are essential lifesavers that are used to pull yourself out of the ice in case you fall in. To help others in trouble, carry a rope that you can throw out to them. View our list of essential ice fishing gear you might need are creepers strapped under your boots to help with walking on slippery ice.

Essential Ice Fishing Tools

Chisels, augers, and other tools:

Ice auger

Of course, before you can drop any line and start pulling in fish, you have to drill your hole, which is a key part of ice fishing. Ice anglers use an auger, which is sort of like a big cork screw with a sharp blade that spirals through the ice as it’s hand drilled. Usually, the bigger the fish you want to catch, the bigger the auger and the hole. For really thick ice (and for really lazy ice fishermen!), augers may be powered by batteries or small gasoline engines.

Chisel

A chisel – or spud – is another tool you’ll find in an ice fisherman’s gear. It’s basically a blade with a long handle, used to chip into the ice by hand or break through thinner ice.

Skimmer

You also might want to carry a skimmer, some sort of scoop or deep ladle with holes in it to remove slush from your hole without picking up water, too.

Heater

Many ice anglers also carry a portable heat source in the coldest conditions. When temps drop below about -20 °F (-29 °C), ice holes start freezing again and closing up almost instantly, so a heater will help keep the air warm and the hole open. It also can make the fisherman more comfortable!

Flasher

Modern technology is making fishing easier and more productive than ever, and sonar systems like the Fishfinder are a big part of that. Well, ice fishing has its own sonar tech, called a Flasher. A Flasher will give you data on depth as well as indicate the presence of passing fish, as well as a mark where your actual bait is. Some fishermen even use underwater cameras to track the play on their bait and spot the passing fish.

Spear fishing

Instead of a tip-up or a rod, some ice fishermen use a spear gun. They cut a larger-than-normal hole within an ice shanty called a dark house, and stare into the black waters. When they see a fish appear, they plunge a 4 or 5-point spear into the water, pulling it back in with a line. You’ll usually find ice fisherman using spears as they fish for sturgeon.

Clubbing

You won’t find too many clubbers out there on the ice anymore, but it’s still fun to include it on this list. If you don’t know, the fisherman walks out onto clear ice in shallow waters and looks down until he sees a large fish swimming beneath. He then slams the ice with his club, the shockwaves stunning the fish and allowing him to cut through and grab it. So on top of an auger and chisel, this fisherman will also need – you guessed it! – a good sturdy club!

There are three main tools that can be used to make the holes in the ice. An Ice Chisel – this tool requires a lot of effort which is why they have been replaced with more advanced tools like the Hand Auger. Hand augers are more efficient but the blades need to be very sharp in order to work well. The third type is the Power Auger. This one is most efficient but also more expensive. After digging the hole an ice scoop or skimmer used to clear the hole. Don’t forget a bucket in which to carry your fish. Your equipment can easily be carried on a sled.

Different kinds of bait are used, such as wax worms, spike, mousies or even artificial ones. A jigging rod is lowered into the hole with the bait attached. Using a tip-up line is another way to catch fish. When fish have caught onto the bait, a flag tips up on the rod signaling a catch. Reel and rod combo are typically used for smaller fish whereas tip-ups are generally for bigger fish.

To fend off serious cold weather, ice shelters and shanties are sometimes erected. They come in different designs and sizes. Some are portable whereas others are more permanent for longer fishing seasons. The portable shelters are easy to set up and provide a base level of insulation from snow, wind and cold. Whatever type of shelter you use, make sure that it is well ventilated.

A lot of precaution need to be taken when ice fishing. It can be dangerous if you don’t do it right. You or your vehicle can fall in the ice if it is too thin. Other risks include carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly used heaters. Anglers could also get frostbite from exposure to the cold and wind. This is why safety is always considered first when it comes to ice fishing.