A Beginner’s Guide to Ice Fishing

Picture this: the days are short and the nights are long. The weather is bleak, and there is no sign of sunshine or warmth in the foreseeable future. Sound familiar? You guessed it; it’s winter.

And while winter is no novice occurrence, it always manages to put a damper on things for anglers all around the world. For those of you who can’t wait for the warmer months to get back out on the water, I present to you the concept of ice fishing.

To give you a general idea of ice fishing: it’s virtually ordinary fishing minus the boat. You know how when you fish there’s usually a boat sitting between you and the water? In the case of ice fishing, a thick layer of ice replaces the boat. Sounds strange? Yeah, well so does fishing in the winter!

Jokes aside, ice fishing has proven a popular pastime during the dreary winter months. So popular, in fact, folk even download ice fishing games to their devices to play in the off-season. During the winter, however, anglers all around the world partake in the sport. Bordering Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, the accessible Lake Michigan is a top spot for ice fishing.

What exactly is ice fishing? You may ask. Basically, you get bundled up and walk out onto the ice, which you’ve taken proper safety precautions to thoroughly inspect, with your gear and set up for a nice day of fishing. After drilling through the ice and casting your line, you sit back with your fishing pole in hand and wait to see what the day will bring.

If soaking bait while enjoying the frosty air sounds like something you may be interested in, these tips will help you get started in ice fishing.

Fishing License

Before you even think about stepping onto the ice, make sure you’ve got your fishing license handy. Yes, ice fishing is still fishing, therefore, a fishing license is required, so don’t forget your fishing license! Got it? Good. If you don’t have one, you can visit your local Department of Fish and Wildlife center for help.

I’ll tell you a quick story about the man with no fishing license. He couldn’t go fishing. The end.

But in all seriousness, let’s just stick to the law so you can enjoy a nice trouble-free day out on the water – I mean ice!

Ice Fishing Safety

It’s no secret ice fishing is the most dangerous kind of fishing, so you can never be too safe while out on the ice. Doing everything with safety in mind is the key to a successful trip.

Ideally, you’d always have a partner with you. In case you are out on the ice on your own, it is important to let people know where you are going and what time you expect to return.

A few things to carry with you for safety reasons include a fully charged phone, ice pick, life jacket, whistle, rope, and spare clothes.

Anything can happen, as nature is unpredictable, so prepare for the worst. Should you fall into the water, an ice pick or a PFD could mean the difference between life and death. However, if the ice you are on breaks off and drifts away, a charged cell phone could be as crucial to your survival as a life jacket.

Also, keep in mind that a floatation device may keep you from drowning, but you only have a few minutes to get out of the water and get dry before hypothermia sets in. This is where the spare clothes come in handy.

Ice Fishing Equipment

I’m sure this goes without saying, but you can’t ice fish without ice fishing equipment. The gear ice fishing calls for differs from your standard fishing gear. It’d be a real shame to make all sorts of preparations for the big day, just to get out on the ice and realize you forgot your auger.

Without a spike, you might find yourself on some thin ice – literally! Use a spike to test the depth of the ice as you walk on it. You’d be surprised how quickly things can go south out there. So, while you’re at it, make sure you have some ice picks to help get yourself out of a sticky situation, or in this case, a cold and wet one.

If you want to get really fancy, you can even get yourself an ice fishing house! Or rather a shanty, if you’re looking for something basic that will still keep you warm. An instant, tent-like sanctuary is easy to use and can be set up in seconds. If you’re looking to be comfortable on the ice, consider investing in one of these convenient shelters.

A bucket is a simple yet useful tool you’ll be glad you thought to bring. Sure, you can use it to carry your bait, but it can also double as a seat. Your back and feet will thank you.

Perhaps the most important tool, you’ll need an auger. Make sure you have one or else you might find yourself without a hole to fish through. For those of you who haven’t tried drilling through ice before, it’s no easy feat. Seriously, get an auger.

Also, if you’re not looking to dig out ice with your bare hands, an ice scoop will do you some good.

And of course, you’ll be needing a rod and reel. There are certain sets made especially for ice fishing, but any rod and reel will work just fine.

Alright, that about covers the gear. But hold on, let’s not forget the hot coffee! Just make a pot and pour it into a thermos. Trust me, you’ll be grateful you did.

Ice Fishing Clothing and Apparel

Keep in mind you can always shed layers if it gets too hot, but you can’t put on layers you don’t have. With that said, bundle up! Regular ice fisherman brave temperatures of 20 degrees and lower. So, make sure you have appropriate clothing.

The basics include a moisture-wicking base layer, a wool or fleece second layer and a waterproof outer layer. Wool socks and warm, waterproof boots with good tracking (preferably spikes) are recommended.

Now, the main areas affected by the cold are the head, neck, hands and feet, so you should consider packing accessories. A good hat, scarf, and gloves will protect you from any harsh winds and keep your body temperature up. Also, hand and feet warmers can’t hurt!

And I can’t stress this enough: do not forget the earmuffs. I’ve definitely made this mistake, and, believe me, it’s not a mistake you make more than once.

If you’ve got these areas covered, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Except maybe catching fish, but we’ll get to that.

Where to Ice Fish

If you’ve never been ice fishing, you may be wondering where to start. For safety reasons, avoid rivers and streams and stick to lakes and ponds that are at least 10 feet deep.

Lake Michigan and Lake Champlain in Vermont are some top spots for anglers of all experience levels. You can also check out any popular bodies of water where tournaments are held. These are sure to have a few anglers and plenty of fish for catching.

If you’re still unsure, just ask around at local bait shops to see where anglers have been having success.

How to Ice Fish

Now that you’re fully prepared to ice fish, let’s talk about how the actual fishing works. Once you’ve carefully walked out onto the ice and picked your spot, it’s time to start drilling your hole.

Four inches of ice is enough to support the weight of one angler and their gear, so make sure the ice is about five or six inches if you have a partner. Point the tip of your auger into the ice and begin turning it until it breaks the surface and pieces of ice start to break away. You’ll know you drilled deep enough when you see water. Now it’s time to grab your ice scoop and clear away any excess ice.

The next step is testing the depth of the water. Add a sinker to your line and let it drop to the bottom, then reel it in a few feet and add a bobber where your line breaks through the surface of the water.

Ice fishing is serene and has its exhilarating moments. It can be a great time, but it is important to remember that it is also dangerous. Just keep safety in mind and enjoy yourself, that’s about all there is to it. All there’s left to do now is hook your bait and wait!