Drilling An Ice Fishing Hole: Everything You Need To Know

When it comes to ice fishing, the main thing that separates it from regular fishing is the fact that your fishing radius is highly limited. You cannot go out on the water and cast out wherever you want, so this requires a unique approach.

One of the most critical steps for your fishing trip is deciding how and where you’ll drill your hole in the ice. There are a lot of factors to consider when doing this.

Scout Early

We are currently in the freezing season when the water temperature starts to drop, and this is the ideal time to get out on the water and start scouting your locations for when the water freezes over. This may sound crazy to some, but the best ice anglers have everything figured out before the water freezes over.

If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. You can’t see under the ice when the water is frozen, so you can’t identify a lot of major signs that would make you want to fish in a specific area. If you don’t have it figured out ahead of time, you’ll have to fish the water blindly and that will likely turn out to be a disappointment.

If the water is not yet frozen where you are you may want to draw up a map of ideal locations during the warm season because not much will change when the water freezes over. Also, pay attention to slopes and variations underneath the water—most freshwater fish like to hang around on underwater cliffs and ledges when the water is cold.

Decide What Type of Auger You Should Use

The most important tool for drilling your ice fishing hole is the Auger. This is a corkscrew tool that drills into the ice similar to how a regular drill would. There are a few different kinds, and they each have their pros and cons. The depth of the ice is a major deciding factor in what kind of auger you use.

If the ice is over five feet thick, it would be hard for you to drill through it by hand.

Hand Auger

How to drill an ice fishing hole with a hand auger

The original auger you could use is a hand auger that you have to turn by hand as it drills down into the ice. This is quite a task for most people, and if the ice is thicker than four feet deep, you could find yourself struggling a bit. The bonus to using this tool is that it is light and easy to carry. If you have a long walk from your car to where you are drilling, carrying a gas-powered auger is a major undertaking. Although, it might be a tradeoff when you get to the hole location and it takes you 30 minutes and a nice sweat to drill through the ice.

Drill Auger Insert

Ice Fishing Drill Bit

One of my favorite ways to drill a hole is an insert that you can put on a standard power drill. There are some definite pros and cons to this. The pros are that it is even easier to travel with than a hand auger and you do not have to do much of the hard work because the drill does it for you.

The downside is that you can’t drill a large hole like you could with a hand and power auger. Typically the largest hole you could drill would be no more than six inches wide which limits your method of ice fishing.

One good thing about this method is you can drill more than one hole in a short amount of time. If you are unsure of a good fishing location, you can fish multiple areas quickly in the same day without having to struggle.

Power Auger

For most people, this is the method of choice. You can drill a bunch of holes in a short amount of time with minimal effort, and if you are using a power auger, the ice must be very thick, to begin with. A lot of the time depending on where you are you may even be able to drive your vehicle out on the ice, and that would lower the amount of legwork you would have to do, that depends on whether or not the lake you fishing allows for it.

When using a power auger, you want to make sure you have your feet planted firmly in an area where you will not slip and make sure you clean the blades, so they make a nice clean cut through the ice. The cut will create a lot of slush around you as well, so be careful you don’t slip. I can say that I have injured my tailbone a handful of times wiping out on solid ice, not a good time.

Tips and Tricks

  • When scouting, look for underwater rock piles, stumps, and weedy areas. Knowing where these areas will help you tremendously during the frozen season.
  • Pay attention to ledges and drop-offs during the warm season and mark down where these areas are so you can drill your holes above them.
  • Remember that ice is thinner where there is fast running water. Stay away from inlets and outlets on the lake.
  • The best depth to fish is two to four feet from the bottom of the lake. Use a depth indicator to give yourself an idea where this is. Ice fishing requires more precision than warm water fishing.
  • Clean the hole well after you drill because there will be a lot of slushes depending on the depth of the ice. If you are unsure about the radius of the hole, this could result in your slipping and your leg getting caught in the hole.
  • If you have trouble drilling, try warming up your auger blades. Use a portable heater or set it out in the sun for an hour. This will help you get the hole started.

Whether you are new or experienced with ice fishing, it is always important to hone your craft and refresh your memory on the basics. Drilling a proper hole is an important step, and without the hole, you won’t be doing any fishing.


  1. Hey Coty, good stuff.

    Any change in auger choice depending on if you’re planning to use a fish finder?


  2. Hey Andrew, thanks for your comment and kind words!

    I wouldn’t say it matters really, it’s all up to your preference and budget of course! I think most people who don’t use a power auger do not, simply because they cannot afford it.

    Good luck this winter!

  3. I use the auger a lot when going ice fishing with my family. With your tips and tricks I can use it more effective now. Thank you so much Coty for sharing such a great article.

  4. I just love ice fishing. Catching fish in such a great way is one of the most adventurous things to do I think. It’s just amazing & exciting. You have shared some important & valuable tips to catch a fish under ice. Love this a lot. Thanks for sharing.

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