So you have jumped the hurdle of being afraid of ice fishing, and now you are ready to hit the ice, but you need some more information before you can get out there with confidence. Ice fishing is not the sport you want to show up unprepared for. If you do not bring the right gear it won’t be uncomfortable it could be dangerous.
It’s an excellent choice to research before jumping into something, so I want to give you all the information I can on the things every ice angler should have with them when they head out. This applies to seasoned vets and newbies, but I am focusing mainly on the basics. There are a lot of things you could bring, but these are the essentials.
1. Proper Winter Attire
For ice fishing, you should wear enough clothing that would cause you to sweat during an avalanche and add another layer. You never know what the conditions will be like on the lake and most people (including myself) walk outside my house before the trip and say, “yeah, this should be fine.”
Then you get out on the open water with the wind blowing and the light snow that coats the ice is blowing up in your face, you’re not moving around much either so your extremities tend to get cold as well.
Plan appropriately for the worst case scenario when it comes to clothing. Now, for the most experienced ice angler, you may have a heater, hand warmers, or even an ice fishing shelter. If that is the case you do not have to worry about clothing as much, but you should still always have back ups of everything.
2. Ice Fishing Rods and Line
The most common question people ask me is if you can take the rod you have used all year and put it to the test on the ice, and the answer is no. There are many reasons why a standard spinning reel will not work for you.
The first issue is the size of the rod is meant for long and precise casting and when you are ice fishing that is completely unnecessary. What you need is a shorter and smaller radius rod so you can feel every bite you get. You aren’t going to have the same nibble and tug feeling you get when fishing open water because the lure will be moving a lot less. This allows the fish to nibble gently without alerting you.
The most important differing factor between warm and cold water fishing is the line. Leaving a regular fishing line in the icy water for too long causes it to become brittle and allowing the fish the get away with your lures. Ice fishing line is braided and much thicker so you can battle your catch in close quarters and pull the line hand over hand if you had to. This line also holds up better in the extreme cold.
3.The Best Ice Fishing Lures
Since you cannot have the effect of mimicking live bait when it is sitting completely still, for the most part, jigs are usually the favorite among ice anglers. Sitting there jigging the lure up and down is the best way to aggravate the fish if you are not interested in using live minnows or something of that nature.
4. Ice Auger
If you have never been ice fishing before you may be wondering what the best way to drill a hole is and that is by using an ice auger. There are many different kinds of ice augers ranging from automatic gas powered ones to the kind you use by hand.
The difference in auger you choose should depend on how often you plan to ice fish and what your budget is. If you plan on making ice fishing a regular thing and you have the budget for it, go for a gas powered auger because it will put a lot less strain on you and you’ll get the holes drilled much faster.
If you are unsure if ice fishing will become a regular thing and you are trying it out feel free to use a hand auger, or you could even use a drill insert auger that goes right into your battery powered hand drill.
5. Safety Equipment
Ice fishing is not dangerous and holds many of the same risks regular fishing does but you should have the proper equipment and an action plan in the event something does go wrong. You should always be wearing a life vest anytime you are out on the ice and bring a tape measure with you should you can measure the thickness of the ice. Remember, just because other people are fishing the ice does not mean it is strong enough for you. Use your judgment and trust the facts about ice thickness.
- Less than 4 inches – Do not fish
- 4-6 inches – Proceed carefully and check thickness regularly
- 6-8 inches – Safe for you and many others
- 8 or more inches – Safe enough to drive on with a vehicle
If you are fishing a state lake they often have maps which help you to understand where you are in the event that you get confused or disoriented.
If you plan to ice fish for the first time make sure you go with someone who is experienced so they can show you the ropes and always let someone know where you are going.
6. Buckets and Sleds
There are many different ways to go about this, but the most effective and affordable way to travel onto the ice with your gear is by pulling your tackle box and rods in a sled. You do not want to have to carry everything to your fishing spot by hand because you never know exactly how far you will have to go. Also if you cannot drive out onto the ice or even close to where the water is there will be quite a bit of walking before you even get to the lake.
Having a few buckets in the sled gives you somewhere to store your gear, your catch and somewhere to sit down while you are fishing. Make sure you have lids for the buckets as well so you can sit on them with fish inside.
7. Fishing License
Having a license to fish the water is an obvious requirement, but I felt I should still cover it. Depending on your state you have different guidelines that determine different seasons of the year for catching and keeping certain fish and specific times where you must release your catch. Be sure you are aware of these seasons because you do not want to be fined for something silly like that.
8. Fish Finder
This tool is completely unnecessary, and you could go without it, but it helps immensely during ice fishing because you do not have the same key points to look out for like you do when the water is warm. It’s easy to know that fish hang around weeds and stumps but what do you look for when everything is frozen?
A fish finder gives you an idea of how deep the water is, what the water temperature is and graphic images of where the fish are. This device allows you to determine if you are fishing in the right area or if you should move somewhere else. During cold weather fish like to hang around steep drop-offs in the base of the lake and the fish finder will tell you that as well.
9. Ice Fishing Shelter
Something else completely unnecessary is an ice fishing shelter but why not enjoy the experience more by having one. If you know someone who has one you could try and fish with them as well. The shelters come in a variety of sizes ranging from one person to six or more people. You can drill your holes and set the tent up right over them, so you do not have to experience the elements.
If you have a shelter or even if you don’t, it’s nice to have some form of heat. This could be a complete gas heater that you use inside your shelter, or it could be a set of hand warmers that you use to help keep your hands and fingers nimble. Having something like this may not seem like much, but if you could use hand warmers if you start to get cold, that could extend the length of your trip and make you enjoy the experience a little more.
You now have all the necessary tools and basic knowledge to get on the ice with confidence. Using everything above will make sure you have a good experience, and it will make you want to come back and do it again.
If it’s your first time, congratulations! I hope you have a great time and be safe out there!
Thanks for pointing out that the most effective and affordable way to travel onto the ice with your gear is by pulling your tackle box and rods in a sled. My husband and I are thinking about trying out ice fishing on our next vacation because he already loves regular fishing. I think that it would also be smart for us to make sure that we have a good ice fishing shelter because I don’t really want to hang out in the cold wind all day.
Cory I believe you should rethink your suggestion of driving on ice with 8 in. Most ice fishermen have trucks not all but most and 12 in is the standard for driving remember all ice is not the same thickness.
My sister and brother going fishing regularly; they say it’s a great way to relax and be a part of nature. As I was reading your article, you write about needing the right attire if you are planning on going ice fishing. I’m going to ask my brother and sister if this is something they have ever done, ice fishing looks like a blast!