How To Go Ice Fishing- A Helpful Guide For Beginner’s

how to go ice fishing

During the winter months when most people restrict their outside activities, do you consider yourself standing apart from the crowd? You are hardly bothered by the freezing temperatures and are raring to go out.

However, you are clueless about any specific engagements that can be performed in this weather.

Obviously, the option to play outdoor games is out of the reckoning and boredom will soon creep in if you wander around aimlessly. Ice fishing is the best option for a kill-devil like you, who have the guts to brave the chill.

Ok. So, enough jibber-jabber, before you drowse, here are our words – In this comprehensive guide, we are going to cover everything you need to hit the ground running.

Let’s jump in.

Gearing up to get started ice Fishing

Foremost, you need to gear up properly before venturing for the fishing expedition.

Needless to say, your patience can be tested when you are hitting the spot and even you may have to sit out in the cold for prolonged hours. Therefore, ensure that your preparations aren’t stone-dry and you are all set to take your shot.

Get a License before to go Fishing

Go and get you a fishing license. There are many places where you need to get yourself a valid license in order to go for ice fishing. Particularly, for those who use a wheelhouse variant shelter, will be needed to purchase a license.

This has been made mandatory by the law, so the anglers who are necessarily going to place the shelter on the ice, while occupying it will need to carry a valid license.

Don’t go alone

Well, fishing expeditions are seldom enjoyable alone. You will surely have some of your close buddies whom you can convince to accompany you braving the cold. Moreover, once you have finished reading this comprehensive guide, you will be able to convince your friends on the fun side of ice fishing.

Again, if you have never gone for ice fishing before, you should always escort a person who holds experience in the same, even just a barely well-versed peep. Not to mention, ice fishing involves a lot of fun but at the same time, it could be equally dangerous for novices or first-timers.

You can read as many internet guides, watch video tutorials on ice fishing, but the practical experience is going to be entirely different in the case.

Where to go Ice Fishing?

Do you have the knowledge of the geographical place where you’ll be going for ice fishing? If not yet, then now you have a mission.

Get in touch with your peers asking them if they can help you out with further recommendations on the subject. Try to reach out to those peeps who have been there before for the same cause.

You should have the adequate information on the places where you can go for ice fishing and is quite safe at the time you would be visiting. Else, your preparations will go in vain, and you will return empty-handed with goofy genius.

If you are a resident of Northern Europe or North America you have abundant choices for ice fishing. Some of the renowned ice fishing locations include the Lake Simcoe in Canada; the place is often called the “ice fishing capital”.

Alternatively, you have the option of going to Mile Lacs Lake in Minnesota, Lake Champlain in New York, Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and Lake Houghton in Michigan.

Whew! The choices are plenty!

Checking Whether Conditions is must

Certainly, you will not appreciate the ice fishing mission to get failed, once you solely have made your mind. But however, you may have to encounter this fate, if you haven’t checked the weather conditions before you set out.

Generally, the blue skies accompanied by days of high pressure are not going to be suitable for ice fishing. Alternatively, if the weather forecast says the temperatures are going to fall further and most likely accompanied by a winter storm, your ice fishing expedition can yield rich dividends.

Therefore, always check the weather conditions to make sure you will be greeted by a low-pressure system with moderate temperatures before planning.

You need Fishing Tools

You need to carry the proper tools and equipment for ice fishing.

  • Apart from the essentials like a bucket, a fishing rod, and the bait, you will additionally require a shelter, a chair, a sled, flashlight and compass and a propane heater.
  • The ice fishing shelter resembles a tent but with a lot of extra features. The shelter is always portable and it will have an aluminum frame, zipped doors, and vinyl windows.
  • You can also rent or make an ice shanty which is again a type of shelter essentially made from plastic or woods.
  • Lastly, you can also opt for an ice fishing house. As you can understand, this is a big structure and can easily accommodate many people.
  • Some ice fishing enthusiasts also recommend carrying an electronic depth finder, underwater camera, flasher, two-way radio and a GPS.

Ice Fishing Tackle

Ice fishing tackle refers to the equipment you will need for fishing in the ice, and these are as follows:

  • The gears you will need for ice fishing would include a spud bar, an auger, a skimmer and a gaff hook. Let us understand their functions.
  • A spud bar is essentially a hand tool which measures the thickness of the ice.
  • The auger looks a lot like a screw and it is very helpful for cutting the ice.
  • The skimmer, also referred as the scoop is necessary to dig a hole in the ice wherever necessary.
  • Lastly, the gaff hook helps to pull out the fish through the small hole created by using
    the skimmer.
  • Lastly, remember to use the proper bait and tackle for specific fishes. There will be some fishes which you need to catch using live bait while some of them prefer fake bait. During the chilly weather conditions, you can do with a lighter tackle as the fishes tend to be less aggressive in such weather conditions. So, include the jigging
    rods, ice flies, tip-ups and jigs as the common tackle mediums. Lastly, include leeches, minnows, and nightcrawlers as live baits.

First thing first –  Safety

As mentioned earlier, ice fishing has its fair share of perils. So, before you go all out and enjoy, ensuring safe practices is a must. Here is what you should be looking at.

Be cautious about testing the ice

Ice can be of various thicknesses. Generally, the near-shore ice is much thicker and safer. So, this is the best place to be instead of visiting the ice which is far off. You should always use your spud bar and auger to estimate the thickness of the ice at regular intervals. You can spot the weaker ice easily. You can be sure; the ice formed over the springs, pressure cracks and near the mouths of rivers will be weak.

Recognizing the color of ice can also tell you a lot about their attributes. For instance, the clear blue ice is robust, white or opaque colored ice will tend to be weaker. Lastly, always avoid the ice which looks honeycombed.

Comfort – Dress warmly

You are challenging sub-freezing temperatures, thus you should choose your clothes accordingly. You certainly do not want your expedition to become a damp squib as an improper choice of clothes made you shiver out there. Get a spot on with these clothes to stay warm and comfortable. The best thing to do is to dress in layers and these include:

  • A moisture-wicking base layer, this is going to play a vital role when you are walking in the snow.
  • A pair of moisture-wicking socks should also comprise the base layer of your outfit.
  • A long sleeve T-shirt should accompany either jeans or sweatpants.
  • You will find a lot of choices for jackets and bibs to cover the outer layer of your body. Ideally, these jackets are windproof, waterproof and most importantly breathable.
  • Carry two sets of gloves positively. There is every chance of the gloves to get wet when you are ice fishing. The other pair would then come handy.
  • Wear a full-head balaclava. For those, who do not what a balaclava is, it is a form of headgear which is used exclusively for ice expeditions.
  • Wear a pair of quality boots that are going to offer you protection from the cold. Thinsulate boots are mostly recommended by the seasoned campaigners of ice fishing.
  • Lastly, never underestimate the importance of the hats and sunglasses. The sun beating down on the ice will cause a bright reflection. Often, this is harmful to the eyes.

Safety equipment

We have already mentioned previously, despite the fun involved in this fishing sport, there are many perils as well. Therefore, you should have the adequate safety equipment ready, and these include the following:

  • You should have a life jacket which is essentially approved by the Coast Guard.
  • Ice cleats or creepers are indispensable. They can be attached to the boots. The specialty of these items is, they have spikes which offer additional protection when you walk on the slippery ice.
  • Ice chisel and ice safety picks are two more important safety devices. The ice chisel will let you dig the ice to understand the thickness of the ice and you should wear the ice safety picks around your neck. In case, you accidentally fall, you can pull yourself back.
  • A contour map is going to familiarize with the area where you are fishing. Additionally, it will also give you a point of reference in case you are in need of one.
  • Carry a floating rescue rope. There is every possibility of someone including you falling. The rope, in that case, is the best option to rescue the fallen.
  • Ice fishing suits, also known as floating suits serve a dual purpose. It is going to keep you warm and on the event, you require to go through the ice, you can do so easily.

Treat out on the ice

By no means, the ice fishing is going to end within a few hours. In most cases, you might have to wait for the entire day. So, you must be ready with the necessary supplies of food and drinks. You might know this already; extreme cold temperatures tend to burn more calories. Additionally, you the run risk of getting dehydrated and getting hypothermia. Your food and drink selection should be able to keep you warm in such conditions and should have a good calorie intake. Here are some foods you can take along:

  • Coffee, hot chocolate soup and chilly are some of the must-have items.
  • Trail mixes, nuts, dark chocolate with dried fruits can be a good source to replenish the lost calories.
  • Banana sandwich with peanut butter on whole wheat bread is also a good option.
  • Ideally, you can also take skim or low-fat milk, cheese sticks, and yogurt.

How to Fish?how to ice fish

Well, you are still not quite finished setting up the pre-requisites. So, just do not rush to go fishing. Here is what you need to do at first.

Setting up a Hole

You probably have found the best spot for fishing, so it is time to set up your hole. Understandably, the most important consideration is to determine the thickness of the ice. The ice should be able to carry your weight as you are going to be seated in that spot for the entire day if necessary. Alternatively, you can also set up an ice hut.

Generally, ice of four inches thickness is enough to support the weight of an individual, but then we mentioned previously, you will be necessarily accompanied by your friends. So, the recommended ice thickness should be more than five to six inches.

Drilling the Hole

After you are satisfied with the thickness of the ice, it is time to drill the fishing hole. For the said purpose, you need to use the augers. At present, there are three types of augers namely the hand augers, gas augers, and electric augers. The hand augers are the best option to be used in this situation.

Preliminarily, you may have to chip a bit of ice before you initiate the drilling procedure. Once this is done, hold the top of the auger handle in one of your hands and hold the arm on the other hand.

Now, put your shoulder and leg muscles in action, as you will need to turn and push down the auger. While drilling, you will see shredded ice coming out. It is a good idea to save the ice on a bucket for storing the fish you are going to catch after some time. If this is your first time, you may mess up the drilling procedure. But, there is nothing to worry, as you can start all over again in some other spot. Repeat the same procedure as mentioned above.

Expel excess ice

Remember, we mentioned the skimmer or scoop earlier, you will now find it useful for expelling the excess ice. You should place the skimmer into the hole you just dug up below the ice level. Preferably, you will require ensuring, the skimmer enters the water. When you lift the skimmer up, it should bring out any access ice which accidentally might have fallen in when you were drilling the hole.

The weather conditions are unpredictable, and from nowhere it can start snowing. All your efforts of pulling out the excess ice will go in vain. Therefore, in such situations, you should cover the drilled hole. You can possibly use a bucket or a catching cover. At least, the snowfall will not accumulate more ice or snow to fill up the hole.

Ascertain the depth of the water

Before you start fishing, you must ascertain the depth of the water. At first, put a sinker at the end of your fishing hook and drop it into the water. The reel will gradually reach the bottom by unreeling automatically. Once it has touched the bottom, take the reel up a few feet and attach a bobber at the surface of the water.

Put bait on the lure

You must have made your mind on which fish you are going to catch. Accordingly, select the live or fake bait and place it at the end of your lure. Now, drop your bait all the way till it reaches the bottom. Periodically, you can raise your bait or lure at least six to twelve inches. Repeat this step till you manage to catch the fish.

Wait until fish stuck

Usually, the fish under the ice water is not going to move and they will also be biting the bait less aggressively. Here, the bobbers are of great utility.

If you think you will realize when the fish is stuck by relying on your fishing rod, you may not be able to identify the proper time to pull it up. The bobbers are very sensitive and their movement will alert you on the fish bite.

However, this is when your patience is put to test. Here lies the utility of having other people with you, else you would be visibly bored after waiting for a long period. It may so happen, even after waiting for hours the bobber does not move. In that case, you can drill another hole a bit further to increase the chances of getting a prized catch.

Alternatively, you can also try and switch the baits. Finally, if your patience pays off, and a fish ultimately bites the bait, you can lift your fishing line out. Your catch will now be visible, unhook the fish and store it safely, preferably in an ice bucket.

Rod vs. Traps

The rods and the traps are the two primary means for catching fish. Generally, the traps are the best choice for catching big fishes and for the smaller fishes you can use the rods. The rods are very simple to use and very useful for vertical jigging. Additionally, the rods are also useful for bouncing the bait inside the water. You can expect to catch small grubs and live minnows. Therefore, you can set up your priorities before starting to fish, and accordingly,
choose using a rod or a trap. By using the traps, you get a lot of areas to cover, which you can never manage to do with the rods. Further, you get the advantage of using many fishing traps. Precisely speaking, you can use as much as five traps for catching the fish.

How Traps Work

Traps can be considered as one of the essential gears for ice fishing. They are known by various names, ice traps, fish traps, and tilts. Consider these traps as the mechanical strike indicators which have the ability to suspend lines under the ice. Typically, a trap needs to be inserted underwater, as soon as a fish bites the spool attached to the trap starts spinning which consequently trips up a small flag placed above the ice. So, you know when a fish has bitten.

Sometimes, you may not find the adequate time to lift the fish that has bitten. So managing more than one trap can be considered a tough job, nevertheless, traps can increase your chances of getting the fish of your liking.

Ice Fishing Methods

You have to put your best foot forward for succeeding in your ice fishing expedition. Of course, you can have a bad day at the office and have to return empty-handed. But, you should prepare yourself properly and know the methods that are going to work in your favor.

Needless to say, you will always emerge a winner by implementing these methods. So, let us get into the details of the various fishing methods.

Light Rod Fishing

Jigging or light rod fishing is done using an ice fishing rod along with a hook and line. Here, you can use both the live bait and fishing lures. You just require to use a jig hook or a live bait and insert the line till it reaches the bottom of the fishing hole. Now, raise the bait a little and jig the bait sideways or up and down. This action should soon attract the attention of a fish. This method is very useful to catch small fishes like crappie or perch.

Tip Up Fishing

You will find this method very useful if you intend to fish several holes at once. Probably, you already have some hint about this method, as we described it in the “How Traps Work” section. Tip-ups are devices which are designated to intimate you when a fish has bitten. A flag will immediately tip-up as soon as the fish strikes the line. You can use this method for catching larger fishes like walleye and Northern Pike. At present, you have the option of choosing from the simple hardwood and pro-thermal tip-ups. They have the ability to cover the entire hole, thus the hole remains unaffected by slush or snow.

Spear Fishing

When you hear about spearfishing, you tend to visualize the ocean or the shallow waters. You have seen those videos many times aren’t it where fishing enthusiasts are diving inside the water and use their skills to spear a fish. Similarly, you can also go for ice spearing, often it is also called by the name darkhouse spearing. To succeed in ice spearing, you ought to have a lot of determination, skill, and patience.

First of all, you need to ensure to darken the surroundings where you are going to fish. This will enable you to get a proper view of the activities going on inside the water. The location of the spot can make a lot of difference. A place that has a light colored bottom is the best option. If you find it difficult to find such a spot, you can sprinkle eggshells on the bottom, which is going to give you a better view.

Before you use the spear, ascertain the lure according to the fish you wish to capture. You should keep the lure moving to attract fishes. When you find a fish is coming towards the lure slower the movement and wait till it appears within the striking distance. When you are ready to throw the spear, the fish should not be facing you. The best area to target is the back of the head. Do keep the spear underwater for best results. Spearfishing requires a lot of practice before you manage to accomplish something.


After the successful capture of a fish, you should adopt a humane method for killing it. The best method to do is by clubbing which is also known as percussive stunning. In this method, you need to strike a hard blow preferably to the top of the fish’s skull with a wooden or plastic club. Remember, the fish will never remain steady; therefore you need some practice for delivering the blow perfectly. Clubbing is mostly used to kill the larger variety of fishes like trout and salmon. A proper clubbing can also ensure give way to a high proportion of meat. In the present day, you can find specific tools for clubbing, for example, the pneumatic club for salmon.


Ice fishing is an adventure, you will have fond memories of the expedition and the quality time you spent with your friends or family. You may return with an empty bag but you will gain a lot of experience from this outing. Just relish the time you spend sitting on the ice, you are going to love it.

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