Are you a fishing lover? There are plenty of ways to enjoy your favorite sport in all kinds of weather. Even on the coldest days of the year, many anglers face the elements in order to catch their dream fish. Not afraid of the cold? Perhaps it’s time to bundle up and give ice fishing a shot!
Ice fishing is an exciting form of angling that takes you out on the ice and lets you play the fishing lottery. If you fish in a hole in the ice, you never know what might come up. You may be able to catch some exotic fish that thrive in the ice-cold climate!
While it’s thrilling in every way possible, fishing in ice requires a whole lot of preparation beforehand. If you’re new to the sport, there’s much for you to know before you head out to your local tundra. To make things easier, we’ve created this complete guide to ice fishing for beginners. We’ll share our tips, our recommendations for gear, and answer all your questions.
Don’t let the weather, or even just a particularly big fish, catch you unaware when you’re out on the ice. Get ready for ice fishing by reading our guide below!
Fishing In The Ice — A Beginner’s Guide
If you’ve never tried it, ice fishing can sound pretty intimidating. Even those of us that handle the cold well tend to avoid sitting out by the ice for hours on end. Yes, hours, because as you well know, catching a big fish may take some time.
Most of us stick to fishing in the warmer months, but there’s no reason to avoid winter fishing. Trying out ice fishing is the key to being able to enjoy your favorite sport all year round. It also brings an element of excitement that regular fishing just doesn’t have.
How do you stay warm, stay safe, and make the most of your angling trip? Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered! Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of ice fishing for new & experienced anglers.
How To Stay Safe When Ice Fishing?
Before you ever consider winter fishing, you must learn all about the safety measures. When done right, ice fishing is safe and fun, but it requires some preparation.
Our number one tip to you is that you should never go ice fishing by yourself. Bring a friend or a family member. Accidents are rare, but they CAN happen, and having someone there with you can make all the difference. Remember that the water is very, very cold beneath the ice, sometimes as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit, so you need to play it safe.
Lastly, remember to bring in all your necessary safety gear, such as a life jacket. Moreover, you need to bundle up and dress warmly in order to not develop hypothermia. We recommend wearing thermals & several layers of clothing to ensure that the cold wind won’t slip past.
Additionally, even if you’re going fishing with someone else, make sure you still alert somebody else of where you’re headed & when you’ll be back. It’s good to have someone back home looking out for your safe return and getting in touch if you’re running late.
How To Make A Hole In The Ice?
This is probably the most common question anglers ask themselves when considering a trip out onto the ice. How do you pierce through the thick layer of ice in order to start fishing? You’ll need some of the greatest equipment to safely do this. We cover our favorites in the section below.
To make a hole in the ice, prepare either an ice chisel, an ice saw, or an auger. The auger can be hand-powered or gasoline-powered. Using your tool of choice, dig through the ice until you find open water. The hole should be at a maximum of 10 inches; otherwise, you risk someone falling in. On the other hand, don’t go any lower than 8 inches. Anything smaller and you risk that a big fish won’t fit through it.
How Thick Does The Ice Have To Be?
This is important: you should never, ever attempt ice fishing if you’re not confident the ice is at least 4 inches thick. Some people like to risk their lives and attempt to fish in ice that is less than 4, or even 3, inches thick. Don’t do that — your safety is at stake here.
Here are some general guidelines about ice thickness.
- Above 4″ — enough for a human to walk on
- Above 6″ — enough for a snowmobile or an ATV
- Above 7-12″ — enough for an ice shanty
- Over a foot — full-sized trucks (usually not recommended regardless of ice thickness)
Keep in mind that ice constantly flows, especially on bigger lakes, such as Lake Superior. It’s also not even all throughout the lake or river. Some parts may have thicker ice, while other parts are really thin. It’s important to tread carefully and keep your eyes peeled for those thinner parts before you step on them.
Another issue is the so-called “rotten ice”. This kind of ice is very dangerous to step on and should be avoided when ice fishing. Look out for things such as discoloration, breaks, holes, cracks, water flows, or pressure ridges to identify rotten ice. Avoid it at all costs.
How Do You Fish For Ice Fishing?
You’ve got your safety tips down to a T, you know how to poke a hole through the ice, but how do you actually fish? First and foremost, check your state (or country) regulations to ensure that you can fish in your area of choice. Some states regulate fishing all year round to prevent overfishing, as lake stock has to be maintained at a certain level. You will also need a fishing license.
You’ll quickly find that ice fishing differs from regular fishing quite a lot. The fish will be slower in their movements and their reactions. This can be a good thing, but it also takes a bit of adjustment if you’re used to the frantic, crazy bites some summer fish have.
As far as ice fishing goes, there are four main methods you can use. These methods are called tip-up fishing, light-rod fishing, spearfishing, and clubbing. We cover them in-depth below.
This fishing method is based on a device known as “tip-ups”. Tip-ups allow you to fish in multiple holes in the ice without having to keep a close eye on each one. The way tip-ups work is simple enough. They suspend a baited hook or jig at a depth of your choice. Most people use fish finders to check how deep the fish are swimming, and then suspend their tip-up while they wait for a bite.
This method is highly effective, but it requires a bit of preparation & multi-tasking to manage multiple lines at once.
Light-rod fishing can be done with a standard summer fishing rod or with an especially designed ice fishing rod.
|Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Fishing Reel & Rod Combo, 26” Light...||Check on Amazon|
It also requires a jigging lure and bait (bait can be live or artificial). For light-rod fishing, you will begin with a long line cast to the bottom of the ice hole and wait. If nothing bites at the bottom, you move further up and wait again. You can slowly move the line up and down as you do so to ensure you’re not missing any fish.
Spearfishing is not very popular when it comes to ice fishing, simply because the conditions are not ideal for it. However, if you’re in the mood for being adventurous, you can try it out as long as you use a multi-pronged spear.
Using that spear, you will be stabbing the fish inside the fishing ice hole.
To entice the fish to visit your area, you should use a whole lot of live bait, such as a bucket full of chum. Many winter anglers opt to use blended up minnows which are difficult for fish to resist. Once the fish appear, take your aim and try your luck.
Keep in mind that not all states allow every kind of fish to be speared, so check your DNR to be sure it’s okay. Additionally, attach a bit of rope to your spear. If you miss & let go of your spear, you’ll lose it forever if it’s not tied to a long line.
Clubbing is, by far, the least popular method of ice fishing. It’s considered barbaric by some. It’s definitely old-school — it requires minimal gear and can be done closer to the shore, which means your prep time is considerably lower.
Clubbing is easy in theory, but difficult in practice. You need to walk close to shallow water and keep your eyes peeled. Once you spot a large fish under the ice, you’ll have to use a large club and slam it into the ice above the fish. This will stun the fish. Now is your chance to quickly cut a hole in the ice and remove the fish.
No matter which method you choose, some general rules are:
- Safety above all — don’t risk it even for the greatest catch
- Dress warmly (get yourself some winter clothing)
- Give yourself time to adapt to the different weather conditions
- If you’re new to the sport, try it out close to home first
- Don’t fish for too long at any one time
What Depth Should I Ice Fish?
The depth will depend on the area you’re fishing in. Depending on where you are, you should aim to cast your line at half the total depth of where you’re trying to fish. As an example, if the body of water is 10 feet deep, you should suspend the bait at around 5 feet in and simply wait.
You can always try moving the bait further down or up if needed — give it some time and then try the next approach.
What Is The Best Bait To Use For Ice Fishing?
Depending on the method, you may use different types of bait. As mentioned, for spearfishing, you’re likely to use a bucket of blended up bait. However, no matter how you spin it, the best way to ice fish is to use live bait.
Mealworms are some of the most common live bait choices for ice anglers. They’re suited for ice jigs and spoons, they stay on the hook without issues, and they’re great for trout and panfish.
Where Do You Go Ice Fishing?
While many parts of the world support some kind of ice fishing, some are better than the rest. If you don’t mind traveling and you want to find the greatest spot ever, here are some of the most popular ice fishing areas.
- Lake of the Woods (Minnesota) — Minnesota has lots of fantastic ice fishing spots, and Lake of the Woods is amongst the most popular of them.
- Devil’s Lake (North Dakota) — Loved by tourists, this lake is great for ice fishing and other winter activities.
- Lake Champlain (Vermont) — Filled with all kinds of fish, this lake is prepared to receive tourists and locals alike.
- Lule River (Sweden) — If you’re looking to visit Europe, Sweden has a wonderful climate that does wonders for ice fishing.
- Lake Simcoe (Ontario, Canada) — Canada, like Sweden, is known for its supreme ice fishing spots. This is one of the most beloved ice rink fishing locations in North America.
- Lake Baikal (Siberia, Russia) — This is a massive lake set in the coldest part of Russia. It’s ideal for ice fishing and exploring nature.
- Tampere (Finland) — This doesn’t refer to one specific lake, but rather several. Finland has thousands of lakes, and the Tampere region is chock full of lakes for ice fishing.
- Lake Champlain (New York) — Champlain is very popular with anglers because it contains both cold water and warm water species.
Best Equipment for Ice Fishing — Reviews
You’ve learned the basics of ice fishing — congratulations! Knowledge alone won’t help you catch your dream fish, though — you’ll need something extra. Ice fishing gear is the way to success and the only way for you to stay safe while fishing. What’s some of the best gear for ice fishing? Check out our reviews!
Onyx MoveVent Sports Life Vest
You should never, ever attempt ice fishing without a life jacket. Get this one to keep you afloat should things ever go awry.
It’s comfortable to wear thanks to the shoulder adjustments that feature neoprene comfort pads. The material is highly reflective, so even after dusk, you’ll remain visible.
This life vest has several zippered pockets, so you can keep your valuables close at hand. It’s made out of heavy-duty nylon fabric, it’s quick to dry, and it’s surprisingly lightweight for something so reliable.
If you want a life jacket for women, you should check out O’Brien Women’s Life Vest — it’s just as good as Onyx and it will suit the female body shape perfectly.
Eskimo QuickFish Portable Ice Fishing Shelter
|Eskimo Quickfish 69151 2 Pop-up Portable Ice Shelter, 2 Person , Red||Check on Amazon|
Ice fishing doesn’t have to be a synonym for “freezing”. You can stay sheltered from the elements while fishing in the ice. If you get this ice shanty, it’s sure to keep you warmer while you indulge in your favorite sport.
It’s easy to set-up and can be placed within 60 seconds. It fits two people, so you and your partner will both benefit from it. Made out of heavy-duty synthetic material (300 Denier IceTight fabric with a 59% higher thread count if you compare it to competitors), it has a set of corner joints that reinforce it and keep it upright.
Who doesn’t love some pockets? This ice shanty has several mesh storage pockets that let you store your fishing gear close. Lastly, it eliminates drafts thanks to its extra-long skirt.
Shakespeare Ugly Stik Ice Fishing Reel & Rod
|Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Fishing Reel & Rod Combo, 26” Light...||Check on Amazon|
You can’t catch your dream fish without the right rod. You can use a typical summer rod if you’re not open to investments. However, if ice fishing is something you want to do more often, we’re sure you’d enjoy the benefits of a proper ice fishing reel & rod combo.
This fishing rod features one-piece stainless steel guides, a ported aluminum spool, and a blank with clear tip design. It’s sturdy, suited for the kind of weather you’re dealing with, and capable of reeling in even huge fish.
Ugly Stik, despite its peculiar name, is a stylish rod with a 20-size spinning reel & 1 ball bearing. It’s fairly lightweight and it won’t put a strain on you when you’re carrying it to the ice rink.
Ghosthorn Fishing Tackle Backpack
Speaking of carrying gear, do you have a suitable fishing backpack? Trust us when we say that it’s much better to carry your equipment in a bag that was specifically designed for anglers. With its plethora of pockets and sturdy design, Ghosthorn is one of the best fishing backpacks on the market right now.
It’s quite big, measuring at 14.5″ x 8.2″ x 5.1″, so it will fit all your pliers, lures, a tackle box, and your personal valuables safe as you’re fishing. It’s also water-resistant, which is super-important in areas where you ice fish.
It has many pockets and storage solutions that make it easy to reach what you need & do it fast. This helps to prevent the fish from escaping if you’re in a pickle!
Garmin Striker 4 Fish Finder
|Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 with Transducer, 3.5" GPS Fishfinder...||Check on Amazon|
While ice fishing has been around for much longer than fish finders have, we don’t recommend ice fishing without a good fish tracker these days. It’s such a massive, fairly new improvement over how things used to be — especially when you fish in ice. This is a device that helps you find fish.
Garmin Striker 4 is a GPS fishfinder. It scans the water, giving you information on the depth of water, the amount of waterweed, and of course, the amount of fish that are present. It has a waterproof rating of IPX7, meaning you can safely use it in the water.
The maximum depth is 1,600 feet in freshwater, which is more than enough for most ice anglers. It’s actually ideal for ice fishing for another reason — the built-in flasher. It allows you to view sonar data in a typical flasher format, telling you everything you need.
Bassdash Ice Fishing Lure Jigs
Ice fishing jigs are all manufactured with one thing in mind — performance in that specific environment. The water beneath the ice is cold, and the surroundings are very dark. That’s why these bright ice jigs are some of the best ice fishing lures out there.
They’re made out of lead, which allows for a quick drop. The hooks are super-sharp and assist you in reeling in your catch. As for the jigs themselves, they’re bright, really bright — and some of them actually glow in the dark! This makes casting your line easier than ever.
This is a set of a total of 24 ice jigs that can be tipped with bait to attract even more fish. Try out a wax warm, a small minnow, or even plastic bait and get right to it!
Winter months may seem like they’re all about cozying up with a cup of hot chocolate, but there’s so much more to it than that. There’s no reason to deprive yourself of your favorite sport just because, as the song goes, “the weather outside is frightful”.
Gear up, get ready, bundle up, and try your luck at fishing on ice. You and your partner are bound to have a blast, and most of all, you may catch fish you’ve never even dreamed of!
- 1 Fishing In The Ice — A Beginner’s Guide
- 1.1 How To Stay Safe When Ice Fishing?
- 1.2 How To Make A Hole In The Ice?
- 1.3 How Thick Does The Ice Have To Be?
- 1.4 How Do You Fish For Ice Fishing?
- 1.5 What Depth Should I Ice Fish?
- 1.6 What Is The Best Bait To Use For Ice Fishing?
- 1.7 Where Do You Go Ice Fishing?
- 2 Best Equipment for Ice Fishing — Reviews
- 3 Conclusion