When deep winter hits, it can pose a serious challenge for many people. The cold weather can be nearly impossible to endure and the majority of your days are going to be spent indoors—even on the warmest days!
Combine being cooped up indoors all the time with shorter days and longer nights, it’s enough to drive you a little batty. Yes, cabin fever is a thing and there are only so many times that you can organize your cabinets and read War and Peace.
If you find that you cannot take one more second inside your house, you can go out and get a little fresh air and partake in some of the outdoor activities that you can still do when it’s freezing outside. Whether you’re going hunting, trapping, or fishing, the great outdoors can offer you plenty of ways to pass the time.
Actually, there’s one activity that’s become increasingly popular over the years since improvements have been made to the gear you’d normally take. What would that be? Well, ice fishing of course. If you’re new to the idea of ice fishing and want to give it a try, you’re going to have to purchase yourself some gear so that you’ll be well prepared!
In this guide, we’re going to talk to you about the gear you should have while you’re winter fishing, what kind of ice fishing bait you need, where you can go ice fishing, and so much more. Read through the entire article and we’ll share with you some of our most helpful ice fishing tips so that you don’t come home empty handed or with frostbite!
As you’re planning for that big ice fishing trip, you’re not going to be using the same gear that you may use for traditional fishing. No, you’re going to want winter fishing gear. This gear is going to help keep you safe, keep you warm, and help you catch fish that’ll make people envious (or, at least be able to catch something!).
Here’s a checklist of essential ice fishing gear that you’re going to want to make sure you have before you head out.
A fishing license is a document issued by the fish and game department of the given state. Every state has their own set of rules and regulations that you’ll have to follow, and the actual process of getting a license may be different in each state as well.
Unlike your traditional poles, the ice fishing pole is going to be short. They tend to range from 24 to 36 inches and they’re this size because you’re going to be fishing through a small hole in the ice, rather than casting it into a large body of water.
The construction of these rods are fairly simple and they are typically a spinning type rod that’s been made from a composite material.
These are reels that are designed to be used with an ice fishing pole. There are three types of reels that are frequently used:
Anglers use a rod holder to keep the fishing rod in place. Let’s face it, ice fishing requires a whole lot of patience and you may go hours before you get a bite. Holding a pole for that long can be pretty boring. At least with a rod holder, you can do other things—like eat or read.
A skimmer is a tool that anglers will use to remove that icy slush and other junk from their fishing hole.
A tackle box is what you’ll be carrying all of your goodies in. By goodies, we mean things like lures, your fishing license, flashers, GPS devices, flashlights, ice fishing line, and other small bits of equipment.
A tip up is a device that winter anglers use to keep live bait under the ice for the purpose of detecting when there’s a fish nearby. When a fish bites the live bait, it’s going to pull down the trip bar, which is just a short rod that’s attached to a flag.
The angler will be able to see the flag move from a distance, and when they see that flag dip, they’ll know that a fish took the bait. This tool is going to let anglers fish in larger areas without help.
An auger is what you’re going to need to drill a hole into the ice so you can fish. These are large drill bits and you may even have one at home for drilling holes in soil. These tools can be either manually operated, or they can be powered by gas or electric.
Many ice fishers prefer the manual augers because they’re affordable, reliable, and they’re eco-friendly. However, if you aren’t interested in using a bit of elbow grease to drill the hole, you may want to go for the gas powered augers, as they don’t require you to strain your arms or shoulders to work it.
Keep in mind, these powered augers are going to require that you bring additional fuel, which can make your load a little heavier. Also, these are more expensive and a little more complex to use.
An ice fishing tent is going to give you a chance to get out of the cold and warm up a little bit. You’ll find that these shelters can get pretty warm, which will feel like sweet relief if you’ve been sitting outside for a period of time in the cold.
You’ll want to look at ice fishing houses that are easy to set up, have a sturdy frame, strong anchor system, and can withstand strong winds. You can also find ice fishing shelters with features like windows, wiring for electricity and gas (these are more advanced shelters), and a ventilation system.
These tools will prevent you from wasting your time drilling holes in dead zones. Instead, use one of these tools so you can find the exact spot where the fish are. Also, a flasher will be able to help you determine how deep the water is, and what kind of bottom you’re going to be dealing with.
If the ice isn’t thick enough to safely drive your vehicle on, you’re going to want a sled so that you can pack it full of your equipment and head out to the perfect ice fishing spot. Look for a heavy duty utility sled because you’ll be able to carry a lot of stuff without expending all of your energy.
Whether you choose a bucket or a folding chair, you’re going to want something to sit on while you’re fishing. We recommend that you choose an insulated folding chair. You’d be surprised by the difference you’ll feel from sitting on one of these insulated chairs than a bucket!
This should go without saying, but you are going to want to make sure that you pack plenty of clothing that is going to keep you warm. Also, make sure you have waterproof/resistant gear like gloves, boots, jackets, and overalls. These pieces of clothing will help keep you warm and dry for the entire trip.
While most smart phone have GPS capabilities, depending on where you’re fishing, you may not have reception. That’s why you’re going to want to make sure that you have a GPS system on hand. You definitely do not want to get lost in the freezing cold with little to no way of knowing which direction you’re going!
We all have a smart phone, but like with the GPS, you may not have reception. It’s important that you have a 2-way radio so that you can get in touch with people in case you do get lost, stranded, or you are in an emergency situation where you need help. A 2-way radio could be the very thing that’ll save your life out there if something bad happens.
When you’re going ice fishing, you’ll be able to use either live bait or lures. If you are going to use a small lure, you’re going to want to choose a jig or flies. You do have the option of trying a teardrop jog with a horizontal presentation by hooking the tip points horizontally.
Or, you could try a banana jig with a vertical presentation where the hook tips point vertically in the water. If you prefer live bait fishing, you can try bee moth larva, maggots, fly larva, mayfly larva or even minnows.
To use the bait, you could simply drop your bait into the water and leave it, or slowly jiggle the bait to attract the fish. Jigging typically is the most successful type of lure used. If you don’t want to use live bait, plastic lures will do just as well.
There are numerous types of lures available that range in size and colors, and they’re designed to look like a worm.
If you’re hoping to catch larger fish, you’re going to want to use a larger hook with a larger type of live bait like smelt, minnows, salmon eggs, or spawn bags. If you’re planning on jigging with live bait, you’re best bet is to use a spawn bag or salmon eggs.
Jigging is a term that describes the ice fishing technique where you are using an ice fishing pole and hook-and-line while your fishing. To jig properly, follow these tips to learn the proper technique:
Note: Jigging is best suited for trying to catch smaller fish like panfish.
Now that you know what kind of gear and bait you can use, let’s talk more about ice fishing and how to get started!
If the ice isn’t at least four inches thick, don’t even think about going on it. How do you know how thick the ice is? You can start by asking locals about the ice conditions. You can look online and check out the local news stations. You can also tell if it is safe to be on the ice if there are already people on it.
Once you’ve determined the lake has a thick layer of ice on it, you’re going to be able to set up shop and start drilling your holes. You’ll want to be careful while removing the covers on the blade of your augers because they are going to be sharp.
Place the blade of the auger onto the ice and add a bit of pressure as you begin cranking the device. If you hear a grinding sound, you’re in business! Right now, you’re basically turning a huge screw into the ice. As you continue to turn the crank, you’re going to be pressing down to make a hole. If you’ve got a powered auger, just hold on to the device and let it do its thing.
Once the hole has been drilled, now is the time where you’re going to want to use the skimmer to get rid of the slush that’s left from the drilling process.
To set up your tip up, you’re going to bait your tip up and just set it in the water. Check out this video for a good walk through on how to set up your device.
If you don’t want to miss out on the fun of actually fishing, you’re going to want to drill additional holes and then bait your lines with whatever bait you decided to use. Drop them into the hole and let them go until you feel the bait hit the bottom. Once you do, reel them up about 24 inches from the bottom, as this is the sweet spot!
Now that you’re all set up, you just have to keep an eye out on all of your lines, bobbers, or tip ups for any signs of movement, which is a clear indication that the fish have taken the bait!
Now, you can pretty much go ice fishing wherever there is frozen water and fish, there’s not much to it. Except, there are some destinations that are absolutely stunning and fishing at these locations is not only an experience, but a must do for those who are avid winter anglers!
Keep in mind, while there are many places on this list that is in the United States, there are quite a few awesome places here that is outside the country! So hopefully you have your passport if you want to check out these destinations!
The Lake in the Woods is the top of our list because it is considered to be one of the top places to go ice fishing by many anglers. This glacial lake has over 14,500 islands, you’re not going to be hard pressed to find structure.
Simply grab your medium action fishing rod, a couple of spoons or jigs and go out to the south side of the lake. You’ll quickly learn why anglers feel this is the best place to go ice fishing… In the world!
Despite the name, Greenland is anything but green! If you’re looking to try catching some winter fish, your breath will be taken away by the towering cliffs in the background.
This is another great fishing spot, especially if you’re up for some pretty extreme ice fishing. You can catch some arctic char during the day and then grab the opportunity to check out the northern lights at night.
When you visit the 1,600 acre lake located in the Glacial Lakes region of northern South Dakota, you’ll be in the midst of some pretty world class walleye fishing, as well as ample supply of smallmouth bass, crappie, and jumbo perch.
Why, the fishing is so awesome in South Dakota over the last couple of years, anglers often hit that 25 fish limit within a few hours! The ice fishing season begins in December and goes until March, though most anglers prefer to fish at the beginning and/or the end of the season for the best fish.
There are a lot of lakes in Iowa that’ll offer a few species of fish in large numbers, but the top choice for winter anglers will always be the backwaters of the Mississippi River. Seasoned pros have their favorite spots along the river, including Bussey Lake, Mud Lake, and you also have Sunfish Lake where it’s been dragged, offering deeper water that most fish go for during the colder months.
When you come here, you can expect to snag some perch, bluegills, crappies, and panfish. The best time to come to this area is from the middle of December to February, but sometimes the ice will have stick around until March.
When you go to Siberia, you’re going to be able to catch species like roach (not the bug!) or perch. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about going through Siberia alone, as there are organized ice fishing tours that are based out of Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic.
The tours operate between November and April, but be certain that if you go in January, you definitely pack plenty of layers because the temperatures drop to −37.5 °F!
While you may think ice fishing is pretty cut and dry, there are some tips that’ll ensure your success!
Ice fishing isn’t going to be for everyone, but for some people, it can be everything. When you’ve got the proper equipment, the right technique, and the best location at your fingertips, the only thing that’s stopping you from having a delicious, fresh caught fish dinner is actually going out there and putting all this newfound knowledge to use!
It doesn’t matter where you go, be it the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Iowa or the fishing tours in Siberia, with proper planning and enthusiasm, ice fishing can be an experience unlike any other!
If you have any tips or tricks to add, please comment and let us know! We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences while ice fishing!