Ice Fishing: Ultimate Guide With All You Need to Know!

Ice Fishing

As the winter arrives, many anglers think that the fishing season is over!

BUT for some, a bit more venturesome, it is a beginning of a very adventurous time.

Drilling a hole through the ice in freezing temperatures, being almost alone in the wilderness and vast, icy, landscape can be very exciting.


 

To mention every detail about ice fishing, I would have to write a book, so here I will mention the basic information about different aspects of ice fishing. It is a good starting point for a beginner, or a guideline for an experienced summertime angler who wants to try ice fishing.

Everything you need to know is summarized in the following chapters:

[FREE E-BOOK]

10 DEADLY SINS [MISTAKES] OF FISHING

Get our FREE fishing e-book where you will find my PRO Tips!

Free-Fishing-Ebook
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Thank you. We'll send you the e-book in the next 24-hours.

How does Ice Fishing Work?

The definition of ice fishing is fishing through an ice opening or a drilled hole by using fishing lines with hooks, or even spears, on top of the frozen water surface.

Ice fishing has a long history, and during past times, it was mandatory for people living in the wilderness to survive.

Today, this activity is practiced for sports and pleasure.

It can be as simple as drilling a hole and sitting on a fishing stool, waiting for a fish to bite. For those who have the means to do so, multi-day ice fishing expeditions can include special gear like tents for shelter and warmth, electricity for necessary devices and much more.



Of course, this activity is possible in world regions where temperatures drop below freezing point and stay low for weeks, or even months (and where the rules permit).

But to be able to present your bait and attract the fish (more about this in the following chapters) you will need a hole in the ice.

You can drill it with an auger and about 8 inches (20 centimetres) in diameter is more than enough, for safety reasons. The bigger the hole the greater the possibility to accidentally fall through. And smaller holes are better for the ice. Large ones can cause ice breakage around the hole, where you will stand.

If you have some experience, larger holes are fine if the ice is thick enough, but make sure you mark the edges somehow, especially if there is a lot of people around.

Safety First: Ice is NEVER 100% Safe!

Ice fishing can potentially be very dangerous, and there are certain rules to be aware of, and follow them, to stay safe.

Here is a list of the most important things:

Ice thickness check

The first, and most important thing to check is the ice thickness.

If the ice is thin and weak, it can break and you can end up in the water beneath the ice. If that happens, you could die.

You can check the ice thickness with an auger and a measuring tape.

Puncture a small hole in the ice very close to solid ground. If the thickness is good, keep checking the thickness as you go, to be sure that it is constant.

For you to walk on ice, it should be 4-6 inches (10-15 cm). For a small vehicle at least 7 inches (18 cm) and for a larger one at least 10 inches (25 cm). And the thicker it is, the safer it will be. For a full-size truck, ice has to be at least 14 inches (35cm).


 

Heaters

When anglers go on a multi-day, well organizes trip, they tend to carry heaters to make their tents warm ... 

It may seem impossible, but cases have been reported where anglers got carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly used heaters.

Make sure you use those suitable for small enclosed spaces and to ventilate the tent if necessary.

Frostbites

Exposed body parts like fingers without gloves or toes in inappropriate boots can get really cold.

And if you stay like that for some time, frostbites are a real danger.

Small ones that affect just tips of your toes are hard to notice if the temperatures are low, everyone is a bit cold, and you expect to feel uncomfortable. Protect yourself with warm, water-proof gloves, boots, warm socks, and dress in layers. Make sure the materials dry fast and that the outer layer is water-proof.



Creepers

Walking on ice can be dangerous.

Slipping and falling may be a funny anecdote, but it can also be a serious hazard where you break your hip.

Creepers or crampons are spiked additions for bottoms of your boots, similar to those that alpinists use, but there are smaller and made for walking on flat surfaces. You can buy them in outdoor sports equipment shops. Besides, taking a fish out will be much easier if you can stand without slipping.

First aid kit for ice fishing

First aid kit for ice fishing is not the same as the one you would carry on a regular trip.

The biggest danger is that someone will fall into the frozen lake and a band-aid won’t help them. You need warm blankets (and keep them nearby, not in a car parked a mile away) and a rope.

Life west and a whistle can come in handy, if you are fishing a bit further away from your friends. Life west will keep you floating and the whistle is there to call them.



Company

When you go ice fishing, never go alone!

Always have at least one friend with you. In case something goes wrong, you will need them to help you. If you must go alone (and I do not recommend it), go to a lake that is popular and there are other anglers. Say hi to them and find a fishing spot nearby, so you will be able to help each other if necessary.

Marking holes

Avoid drilling large holes, but if you need to make it big (enough for a person to fall through), mark it with a stick, highly visible tape, or something that will warn other people.

And that is especially important if there is a lot of people nearby, or even kids (I don’t recommend taking kind ice fishing, except next to the shoreline, just for fun). Especially on overnight trips, in dark, after a few beers…. You know it can go wrong.



What (Which Fish) Can you Catch Ice Fishing?

Fishing underneath the ice can result in a very good catch. Here are the most popular ones:

Ice fishing for Walleye

Walleyes are active trough out the daytime, and that activity increases and decreases in waves.

You can notice that if many anglers are around, usually everyone will catch a few and then the period of activity will stop for some time.

Early in winter, when the ice forms, walleyes will be in deeper areas but close to those shallower ones. Try near areas where sudden drop in depth occurs.

In the middle of winter, when the ice is there for some time, walleyes will go deeper, where the water is warmer, and you will often find them in the middle of the lake.

In late winter, when the ice starts to melt, try location closer to the shore, especially if there is a creek that flows into the lake.



Ice fishing for Perch

Perch can be caught during winter, and especially in late winter when the ice begins to slowly melt.

They are usually located near weedy covers so try locating a spot like that to drill a hole. If the bottom has some rocks too, there is a great chance you will find perch.

This depends on a specific location a lot, and may not always work, but in the majority of cases you will find them in these places.

And don't forget about the best ice fishing bait for perch ...

Ice fishing for Pike

Pikes like to be alone so don’t look for shoals.

Any kind of rock piles or underwater structures are a good place to drill a hole. In shallower waters they will swim in some medium depth while in deeper locations they tend to be closer to the bottom.



Ice fishing for Trout

If you are looking for wild trout, and not a pond one, try on naturally deep lakes.

Similar to perch, trout can be found in locations where deep water is close to shallow areas. Locate those transition spots and you will find trout.

Among other species you can catch a Sauger. They are usually close to walleyes so you can catch them both. They are similar to walleyes, a bit smaller, and you can catch them using the same gear. Occasionally you can catch Eelpout or a Tullibee, but it depends on a location a lot. Bluegills are also active in winter.

Ice Fishing: Ultimate Guide With All You Need to Know - Trout

How do you Attract Fish for Ice Fishing?

There are a few ways to attract them. And although there is not a lot of natural food, fish will not happily swim to your bait, just because they are a bit hungry. To attract them, try the following.

Chumming/Prebaiting

This is the best way to attract most of the species.

Chumming is basically spreading a lot of food, scents or attractants in the water to attract fish from a distance. Use food suitable for species you are targeting (Here you can check what does trout eat in the wild).

In some locations, this practice is against the rules, and there you can use scented gels and additives on your lure.

Highly visible lures

Fish can’t see very well beneath the ice, as the sunlight is partially blocked. Use shiny and bright lures to attract their attention.

Switch lures often if necessary!



Bait bouncing

Bounce your bait along the bottom a bit, and do it hard.

Fish can be far away so you need to get their attention. This will produce vibrations that the fish can feel.

Cover the ice hole

This will not attract them but keep them from swimming away because of fear.

You can use anything to cover the hole, at least a part of it and wait a bit for scared fish to calm down.

Loud lures

The logic is similar to the one behind bait bouncing.

Using rattle spoons or similar lures will make a lot of vibrations that are very attractive. And to use it as your advantage, minimize the noise you make on top of the ice, not to scare the fish.



What is the Best Bait to Use for Ice Fishing?

Choosing the best bait for ice fishing depends on a fish species you are trying to catch.

And the best thing about baits in winter is that they will not spoil because the temperatures are low.

Vibrating baits

These are excellent when the fish are slow and there is no activity.

Vibrations will attract them from a great distance. Wobbles and vibrations will be even “louder” underneath the ice.

Flutter and jigging spoons

Flutter spoons are a bit thinner and wider.

Their shape makes them flash and flutter in the water. Jigging spoons are not as wobbly as flutters, and those will attract fish due to its darting action.

Standard Jigs

These should be a part of every tackle box out there and they are usable anywhere and anytime. Standard jigs are great to be used with ice fishing jigging rods.

Minnows (live or plastic)

These are excellent for trout or pike.

Artificial ones are a very good choice when live bait is unavailable or against the rules. When choosing plastic ones, try to find those that really resemble the real fish.

What Time of Day is Best for Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing can be done through the whole day, but the best times are in the morning, and late afternoon, before sunset.

If you have to choose between morning or late afternoon, choose early morning. To take advantage of morning feeding, arrive early, before sunrise, to have everything ready when fish become active. Morning feeding is important for the fish because the night was long and they are hungry. Their last meal was a day before and this is the prime time to present your bait.

Same as in other seasons, fishing before a storm can be very rewarding.

Early in the season, when the ice is thin, fish will sometimes be in shallower waters and because of thin ice, they can still see you, so keep that in mind while you fish.

Later in the season, when the ice is thick, and the fish are mostly in the deep, you will have to come very early, to locate the fish before their feeding time.


 

What Gear is Needed for Ice Fishing?

If you want to try ice fishing, you have to be aware that it requires a lot of ice fishing equipment.

Some items are absolutely necessary, while other ones are optional.

Here is a list of ice fishing gear needed for your winter fishing trip:

Ice fishing tent

Ice fishing tent is basically a portable shed to keep you protected from outside elements while fishing.

Basic models look like regular tents but they have no bottom, so that you can access your ice hole.

Ice fishing rod

Ice fishing rods are shorter and easier to manoeuvre.

Make sure you have ice fishing rod case too, because the rod has to be protected from outside elements when not in use. Standard length is around 28 inches, and choose those with medium action. Models should be more sensitive to feel any fish activity. Composite or fiberglass materials are cold-resistant.



Ice fishing line

Ice fishing line vs regular line is a common dilemma among anglers, and if you can, I would advise you to get the ice fishing one.

These lines are less visible and have greater abrasion resistance, which is important when rubbing against the ice. Due to special manufacturing process and materials used, these lines are less prone to freezing, and work excellent in very low temperatures.

Ice fishing fish finder

Fish finders are extremely useful to have. You can’t see fish or the bottom through the ice, so having one will make your life easier.

Choose those which are suitable for low temperatures. Extreme cold can influence batteries and electronic devices. Not all models are good for winter.

Ice fishing boots

Boots are extremely important.

They should be warm, water-proof and underneath them you should have warm, winter socks. Boots should be equipped with creepers.

Ice fishing float suit

Float suit will save your life in case something goes wrong.

Float suit increases your buoyancy and stops you from sinking. Swimming in cold water is not possible, your muscles will become useless if you fall in, and the weight of wet, heavy, clothes will drag you down.

Float suits are basically buoyant jackets that make a good outer layer, over your warm inner layers. If you don’t have one, use a life jacket. Numerous small and light models are available on the market.



Ice fishing pants

Outer layer pants are there to protect you from water and to keep you warm by creating an insulation layer over your inner layers of clothes.

Ice fishing chair

While waiting for a fish to bite, you need a place to sit.

Avoid sitting on ice because your body will cool down fast. Having a chair is not for comfort, its for safety too.

Make sure the chair is stable enough to be used on a slippery surface.

Ice fishing traps

Ice fishing traps are mechanical bite indicators.

Traps have a line and a hook that hangs under. When the fish bites and the bait is moved, it triggers a small pop-up flag that stands up.

These flags are great indicators because you can leave your rod unattended and do something else while you are waiting for a fish to bite. If you are using rods for jigging and fish for a short time, traps are not necessary.

Additional items are:

Fishing sunglasses – glare from a white surface on a sunny day is bad for the eyes.

Sunscreen – You have to protect your skin even in winter, if the day is sunny and bright.

Spare clothes – have a set of warm and dry clothes if you get wet.

Sleeping bags and camping equipment – if you plan to stay overnight.

GPS and a mobile phone – these are crucial to be able to call for help.

Small sled – it is easier to drag your belongings than carry it.

Ice Fishing: Ultimate Guide With All You Need to Know - Needed Gear

Can a Fish Finder or Flasher Really Help You in Ice fishing?

I already mentioned fish finders as necessary equipment.

Of course, you can manage without them, but having one of these devices will make your fishing experience a lot easier.

Although both fish finders and flashers use SONAR technology, they have some differences. Flashers have simple screens with lights that show you what is under the surface, while fish finders have screens.

Both work excellent, and if you are thinking about buying them, you have to consider other uses to. Flashers are excellent for ice fishing, but fish finders, depending on a model, can be used year-round and can be used for navigation and chart plotting too. Also, detailed bottom maps can help you decide where to drill a hole.

Finding fish under ice can be a nightmare, especially for beginners, and fishing electronics will help you a lot. So, if you can get one of these, I would advise you to do so.

Where are the Best Places in the World to go Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing takes place in any cold part of the world ...

Most popular locations are probably northern Europe and North America. While the options are endless, here are a few most popular ones:

Ice fishing in Devils Lake

Devils lake is located in North Dakota, and it is an ice fishing paradise.

Lake is huge and there is a healthy population of perch, pike and walleye.

It is popular for both locals and tourists and you can find numerous shops and fishing infrastructure on the spot. Because of the enormous size, those who like privacy can always find a secluded place.

Ice fishing in Nipissing Lake

Located in north-eastern Ontario, lake Nipissing is one of the most famous Canadian ice fishing locations.

This lake is full of walleyes, and some of them are quite big. Other species that are available are pike and perch.

As a famous fishing location, lake surroundings are full of fishing stores and variety of accommodation options for tourists.



Ice fishing in Colorado

Colorado is great for fishing, during different seasons.

In winter, you can visit various locations to fish under ice, and the most famous ones are Chambers lake, Eleven-mile reservoir, Harvey Gap reservoir, Trinidad lake state park, Chatfield reservoir, Crawford reservoir, Lake Granby and Twin lakes reservoirs.

Fish species are various but all of the locations mentioned are great for trout fishing, especially rainbow and brown trout.

Ice fishing in Michigan

Michigan has more than 10.000 lakes and numerous options are available for ice fishing.

Fish species like walleye, perch, bluegill, pike, and crappie are present in large numbers. Winter season is long and there is plenty of time for the water to freeze.

Ice fishing in Alaska

Alaska is world-famous fishing location, and spectacular options are available through the year.

Winter in Alaska is long and cold, so ice fishing season is long too, especially in the northern parts. There are thousands of options when it comes to location.

If you are new to ice fishing, try fishing around Anchorage. Lakes are just minutes away from hotels, guides tours are available and there is a healthy fish population.

Ice fishing in Northern Europe

Countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland can be extremely cold in winters.

And those countries, especially Finland, have thousands of lakes in pristine nature.

Gjøvik is a good example. Located in Norway, this town is located next to the largest Norwegian lake, Mjøsa. Ice fishing is so popular that you can rent an auger in a tourist office. Trout, pike, char, whitefish and burbot are the most popular fish species.

Numerous other lakes exist in the vicinity, and you can always find a spot without other anglers.

Conclusion

There s something about ice fishing that is irresistible to anglers. Wilderness, vast landscape covered with ice and the sound of wind while nature is “asleep”.

As beautiful and exciting as it seems, ice fishing can be extremely dangerous.

Always follow important rules and be well equipped. Follow the guidelines mentioned in the article to stay safe and have fun.

Ice fishing days can seem slow and you can get an impression that there is no fish activity. Play with different lures, use a good chumming mixture and be patient.

And one more tip in the end, don’t drill your hole too close to other anglers, your lines can get tangled beneath the ice.

Affiliate Disclaimer:

Slo-fishing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.