Ice fishing is a popular winter pastime in the United States that many families and anglers enjoy. Historically, ice fishing techniques can be traced back thousands of years. It is believed that many native people from all over the world employed some of these fishing techniques during winter. Today, ice fishing is a fun recreational and competitive activity.

However, individuals engaged in this activity must make sure that they can stay safe on the ice while catching fish. For example, checking the thickness of the ice is an important measure to take before fishing. For more information on ice fishing gear and safety precautions, you can continue to read the section below.

What is ice fishing?

In general, ice fishing techniques involve making a hole in a body of water covered by ice. Moreover, ice fishing can be done with a spear or with a rod, line and hook. In any case, special ice fishing equipment is required, as the gear must be able to work under these conditions.

When ice fishing, you must be cautious about the place where you will chisel or drill a hole in the ice. For example, if the ice is less than two inches thick, you should stay off of it entirely. If it is more than four inches thick, then it is safe to walk on. Ice fishing experiences can be rewarding and calming when done correctly, as fish tend to be more docile during winter. However, it is important to remember to stay warm, as you will be sitting still for long periods of time.

Which fish can be caught while ice fishing?

Many ice fishing fish can be caught during cold winter months around the country. For instance, you may catch some of the following species depending on where you choose to ice fish:

Most of these fish can be found in the Northern parts of the United States and in the Great Lakes. Specifically, crappies are easily accessible in all 48 of the lower states. In general, ice fishing is common in the states that receive heavy snowfall and low temperatures during the winter months. To ice fish, anglers must first obtain a fishing license and learn about the local fishing regulations that apply. For example, fishermen in New York cannot employ ice fishing techniques in trout waters.

What ice fishing equipment do you need for a trip?

Having the appropriate ice fishing equipment is essential to a successful and safe experience. The following is a list of the ice fishing essentials you should try to acquire:

  • Ice fishing rod
  • Fishing line
  • Hook
  • Live bait/lure
  • Pliers
  • Measuring tool
  • Hand warmers
  • Appropriate winter clothing
  • Chisel/Auger
  • Ice safety picks

Your essential ice fishing gear must be well maintained in order to work properly once you start to fish. If you plan to spend the entire day on the ice, you must consider taking a portable shelter with you. Ice fishing shelters come in all shapes and sizes and can protect you from harsh weather. The size and amenities of your shelter must be in accordance to your necessities. For example, large groups may require larger shelters.

Another useful piece of ice fishing equipment is an ice fishing electronic device. Ice fishing electronics such as flashers, GPS devices and underwater cameras allow anglers to see underneath the ice. However, ice fishing electronics are not necessary for catching fish on the ice, despite making your experience easier.

How much does ice fishing equipment cost?

Ice fishing equipment can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousands, depending on the gear you desire. In general, basic ice fishing equipment will rarely cost more than $100 at your local fishing or general store. Conversely, purchasing more advanced ice fishing gear such as fish finders, tip-ups and shanties can increase the overall cost. For example, small shanty tents can cost a few hundred dollars. Moreover, large shanties that are powered by generators can cost upwards of $1,000. Ultimately, your ice fishing equipment will depend on factors such as how long you are staying out on the ice and the how much comfort you wish to have.

What are the best ice fishing rods?

In comparison, ice fishing rods are generally much shorter than regular fishing rods. That is because these types of rods do not need the same casting distance capabilities. Thus, ice fishing rods are usually three to four feet in length, rather than the six feet of regular rods. This change in size makes rods for ice fishing more sensitive to fish bites. That feature is essential when fishing during winter, as fish are less active and tend to bite lightly. Below are a few examples of recommended ice fishing rods for beginners and experts.

  • Basic ultralight ice fishing rod and reel – The best ice fishing rods available are short and ultralight fishing rods. Fish are generally less likely to bite during the winter. Therefore, having a rod that can easily sense the lightest of bites is advantageous.
  • Ultralight spinning rod and reel – Spinning rods and reels are helpful in ice fishing because they allow for easy casting and reeling. In general, setting the drag correctly on a spinning rod can make landing freshwater winter fish much easier for anglers. A drag system is a reel’s brake pad, which keeps lines from snapping.
  • Ultralight spin casting rod and reel – Spin casting ice fishing rods make fishing with live bait easier for anglers. Moreover, spin casting rods usually offer lighter casting capabilities, which yield an overall easier fishing process.

All of the aforementioned ice fishing rods must use eight-pound weight test lines in order to be effective. Both monofilament and fluorocarbon can be effective. However, certain species available in the winter may prefer clearer lines of the fluorocarbon type.

What are the best baits and lures for ice fishing?

The baits and lures used in ice fishing must typically match your skill level. For instance, beginners must consider using live ice fishing bait, as more species are likely to be enticed. Conversely, ice fishing lures present more of a challenge as they require more skill to be used effectively. The following is a list of the ice fishing baits and lures that give anglers the best chance of success:

  • Minnows are a common food source for many of the species that ice fishermen are looking to catch. Moreover, this species is able to survive low temperatures and often thrive in cool waters. Additionally, minnows are easy and cheap types of bait fish to come by. For all of these reasons, they make great ice fishing bait.
  • Wax worms are useful in ice fishing because they can withstand the cold winter temperature better than other bait worms. In addition, wax worms have a better chance of staying on your hook as you move it in the water. Overall, wax worms are relatively very cheap and easily accessible in bait shops and pet stores.
  • Jigs are the go-to ice fishing lure, as they provide great movement to help attract nearby fish. Furthermore, the jigging technique is suited for ice fishing because making jerky vertical movements can be done through small holes.
  • Spoons provide great movement for minimal effort on the angler’s part. Therefore, this is another example of a great ice fishing lure. In general, spoons follow the currents of lake and rivers, which move them around in jerky motions. Additionally, they reflect light very well even under ice, making them optimal for attracting fish.

What should you wear to go ice fishing?

An essential part of your ice fishing gear should be winter apparel. Casual ice fishermen can get away with standard winter jackets, pants and gloves with proper insolation. However, more dedicated anglers should invest in winter suits properly made for ice fishing. Ice fishing suits provide long term protection from the elements and water resistance should you get wet. Moreover, they provide cushioning and protection on the knee and elbow joints, making it easier for you to kneel down. Thus, ice fishing suits make ice fishing a more comfortable experience, particularly if you are spending an entire day fishing.

Other types of ice fishing apparel include shoes and cleats that were specifically designed for the activity. Generally, these items allow for better traction while walking on the ice. Therefore, having the proper footwear can make ice fishing safer and easier, lowering the risk of you falling or slipping.

How do you make a hole in the ice?

Ice fishing enthusiasts can use a variety of tools to make a hole in the ice. However, each ice fishing tool is suited for different levels of thickness of the ice. Additionally, different tools allow you to make larger or smaller holes in the ice. Therefore, consider the following tools:

  • Chisel – Ice fishing chisels are helpful for chipping unnecessary ice from a hole. These tools are used to make small holes in thin layers of ice. For instance, chisels can make holes in ice layers between four and six inches thick. However, any ice thicker than that becomes difficult for chisels to break through.
  • Hand auger – Hand augers are long, spiral-shaped drills attached to a hand crank, and are manually turned to pierce through ice. In general, hand augers can make large holes in thick layers of ice. For example, these tools can be used to perforate ice thicknesses between four and 10 inches.
  • Power auger – Power augers are great ice fishing tools that can make holes in the ice quickly and easily. Overall, these tools run on gas or battery power and can be useful for even the thickest layers of ice. Power augers must only be held steadily on the ice, while they do all of the work. However, these tools generally require regular maintenance to prevent rusting and ensure that they are well oiled before each use.

Before making ice fishing holes, you must ensure that the ice layer is thick enough for you to walk on. You can be certain of that by making several small holes and examining the thickness of the ice. However, drilling holes with power augers may make too much noise and scare away fish. Therefore, be mindful of the places where you are drilling, as sounds may travel through water.

What are the best augers and chisels?

Augers and chisels are well-suited types of ice fishing equipment for thin layers of ice. For example, if you intend to catch small walleye, you do not need to drill large openings in the ice. Standard ice fishing chisels made of steel are typically great options, as they provide durability and reliability in cold weather. However, if you are looking to catch large perch, you may need a thicker auger with more power.

What is a shanty?

An ice fishing shanty is a small portable structure that can be easily placed and removed from a frozen body of water. An ice shanty can be anything from a small tent to a temporary home with indoor heating and a bed. In general, simple shanties are enough to keep winter weather from harming anglers. They are particularly suited for fishermen who do not plan on spending too much time on the ice. Moreover, small ice fishing shanties are easier to relocate.

On the other hand, larger ice shanties can be on the ice for several days. These larger structures are powered by generators that keep the small portable home warm. Additionally, large shanties are particular useful if you are expecting to experience heavy snowfall. However, these structures are less mobile in comparison to smaller varieties.

What time of year can you go ice fishing?

The best time of the year to go ice fishing is between December and February. These are the months when it is typically the coldest in most northern states. However, ice fishing in the beginning of winter can be difficult because the water has not become properly frozen yet. During mid-winter, you will find the thickest and most stable layers of ice.

Where can you go ice fishing?

Nearly all frozen bodies of water are well suited for ice fishing. However, certain ice fishing spots in lakes and rivers may have more fish than others. Therefore, consider these places if you want to go ice fishing:

  • Ponds – It is beneficial for ice fishing beginners to start out in smaller bodies of water such as ponds. These environments can help novice anglers sharpen their skills before attempting to catch large game fish. Moreover, the small fish in ponds are relatively easy to catch.
  • Weed edge – Many fish species enjoy the protection of roots, vines and weeds. For that reason, ice fishing near weed edges can be very successful. However, it may be difficult to find weed edges during winter months, as most plants are dead or under ice.
  • Deep channels – Finding deep channels for ice fishing can increase your chances of catching fish in the winter. Various fish like to swim in these channels because they tend to produce a warm current. In general, lake maps can be utilized to help you locate these deep channels.
  • Lake bottom – If you are unsure about where to start ice fishing, you can let your bait hit the bottom of water. Many species of fish, such as the walleye, spend a lot of time near the bottom of lakes and rivers.

What are the best ice fishing destinations?

There are many ice fishing destinations in the United States that yield large volumes of fish during winter. Below is a list of some of the best ice fishing destinations that you can visit.

  • Lake Michigan, Michigan and bordering states
  • Antero Reservoir, Colorado
  • Lake Champlain, Vermont and bordering states
  • Mille Lace Lake, Minnesota
  • Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin
  • Devil’s Lake, North Dakota
  • Lake of the Woods, Minnesota-Ontario Border

Are there regulations for ice fishing?

Each state may have different ice fishing regulations for different species, techniques and bodies of water. In order to ice fish, you must obtain a fishing license and respect the guidelines established by the state’s regulatory agency. Even during winter, ice fishing anglers must respect specific fishing seasons and do their best to avoid catching endangered species. Moreover, if you intend to catch and release a protected fish, make sure to keep it in the water. Otherwise, its gills and eyes may freeze if exposed to the frigid air.

Ice fishermen must respect the daily bag limits and minimum size requirements established for each species. For example, anglers in Wisconsin may only catch a maximum of ten trout per day. When ice fishing, it is also important to be mindful of the signs set up near certain bodies of water. These posted signs may offer important warnings or prohibit fishing altogether. Obeying these signs, as well as following active regulations, keeps anglers and fish populations safer during the winter.

What are safety tips for ice fishing?

Ice fishing is a fun and engaging activity for anglers to take advantage of during the winter months. However, ice anglers must constantly keep the integrity of the ice in mind in order to stay safe. The following are basic tips for ice fishing safety for all fishermen:

  • Check ice thickness properly before walking on ice – A general ice fishing guideline is that, if ice is thinner than four inches, it is not safe for walking. Conversely, four to five inches of ice can comfortably hold the weight of anglers and their gear. In addition, do not place any heavy ice fishing shanties on ice that is thinner than 10 inches.
  • Keep auger blades covered while not in use – After using an auger to drill a hole for ice fishing, you should cover its blades to avoid any accidents. Auger blades are typically very sharp in order to drill through the ice, and keeping them uncovered can be dangerous.
  • Always have an ice safety pick – Having ice fishing picks on hand can be incredibly helpful if you should fall into the water. In general, ice fishing safety picks are sharp enough to pierce through ice. Additionally, they are strong enough to support the weight of a full grown adult. If you accidentally fall into the water, ice picks can provide enough friction and leverage for you to lift yourself out of it without slipping on the surrounding ice.
  • Keep generators out of shelters – Remember to keep generators outside of your ice fishing shanties, regardless of their sizes.

What are the different ice fishing techniques?

Depending on your target fish species and location, certain ice fishing techniques may be better suited. Moreover, some ice fishing spots do not allow certain fishing methods, such as using tip-ups. The most popular ice fishing techniques that are practiced all over the country include:

  • Jigging is the most popular ice fishing technique, and it is used to catch several different species. In general, jigging motions for ice fishing should be much more subdued than the movements employed by standard fishing rods. Smaller jigs are also recommended for ice fishing, as fish tend to be more line shy during the winter.
  • Bottom fishing with a spoon or live bait is also a popular ice fishing technique. As a matter of fact, this method has given anglers much success during the winter. Walleye and perch are examples of fish commonly found roaming the lower portions of lakes during the winter. Therefore, these fish are more inclined to bite near the bottom, where they feel safer.
  • Tip-ups are similar to the kontiki fishing systems used on beach shores during the summer. When a fish bites a hook attached to a tip-up rod system, a flag goes up, signaling to the angler that one of his rigs has caught something. Thus, tip-ups make still ice fishing easier, allowing anglers to move around and stay warm while trying to catch fish.