Ice Fishing 101

Winter months, for some, entail trying to find something to do while staying warm indoors, but for ice anglers, it’s go time. It’s time for you to give ice fishing a try.

Below are hints on ice fishing gear you really need, and what you won’t need, and some other ice fishing tips to help make this your new outdoor passion.

For starters, a quad or a snowmobile might come in handy to help you power-out onto the ice, but you don’t necessarily need them. Many lakes have public access that allows you to park your car, walk onto the lake, and start fishing.

Of course, you’ll need to make a hole in the ice. Ice chisels are recommended to check for safe ice (at least 4 inches) before venturing out, and they can also be used to chisel fishing holes. Hand augers and power augers are other other pieces of ice fishing gear to consider purchasing as they speed up the process.

As an experienced ice angler, I recommend drilling many holes, as fish typically don’t leave an area of the lake to swim over and find your bait. It’s up to you to find the fish and then present bait directly to them. Try using underwater cameras or flashers that you can drop down the hole and immediately see if fish are there to target, but you don’t need fancy equipment to find fish. Scouting by trial-and-error is effective and often more rewarding.

Folks at local bait-shops can be one of your best resources for ice fishing tips and clues to finding fish since they often get current day-to-day reports on area lakes. Find out what type of fish the lake holds and what their usual behaviors are. Are they bottom-oriented, suspended in the water column, or do they hold tight in weed beds?

Bait shops can also get you set up with exactly what you’ll need to start fishing - a fishing license, an inexpensive rod and reel equipped with line, a strike indicator to hint when you have a bite, and a jig tipped with live or plastic bait to get the fish’s attention. Ice fishing gear is smaller and less expensive than open-water fishing gear, and it can usually be carried in hand or in a bucket that can be overturned for use as a seat.

Another ice fishing tip I always tell beginners is to remember not to sit in one place too long! Drill several holes and fish them. Move often until you find fish that are biting and adjust your technique based on your results. If your first few bites come as you’re dropping your jig down to the bottom, you might be on suspended fish and need to target that section of the water column. Then, practice how to present bait to fish that makes them want to eat it. Swimming the bait down and jigging bait up are common techniques.

Fish behavior changes often depending on conditions above and below the ice. This challenge is the reason ice anglers usually have no problem staying warm - they move often and sometimes even work up a sweat. So don’t be hooked into thinking you can only be warm indoors. Get outside and give ice fishing a try!

Blog post written by Kelly Gotch of the USA Ice Team.

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Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro

Stephanie Vatalaro is vice president of communications for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and its Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar campaigns where she works to recruit newcomers to recreational fishing and boating and increase awareness of aquatic conservation. Stephanie grew up in the Florida Keys as the daughter of a flats fishing guide. Outside of work, you can find her fishing and boating with her family on the Potomac River in the Northern Neck of Virginia.