If you are reading this post then chances are that you have thought about ice fishing but are yet to give it a go. Well you have come to the right place as we are going to cover the basics of ice fishing to get you started.
An incredibly easy way of explaining what ice fishing is, is that it is akin to bridge or pier fishing, except that you have to cut a hole through the ice first. Okay so maybe there is a little more than that to it but let’s get started.
The type of fish you go after and the equipment you use are very important things to consider, but another key thing to think about is the hole you are going to drill in the ice. We’ve got some tips to offer to help you know where you need to cut into the ice in order to have the best chance of bringing in a big catch.
Know the Lake
Since the lake is frozen and the effort needed to move around with the fish is much greater when ice fishing, it is important that you undertand how the lake is shaped which will give you a better idea of where the fish are. If you don’t already know the lake where you are going to fish, look for a map that will tell you about the lake structure. Some things to look for:
- Points – This type of structure is just like the name sounds. A piece of land that juts to a point.
- Breaks – A big change in depth or a drop-off that fish tend to inhabit.
- Saddles – A deeper part of the water that leads up to a shallow part
- Humps – sometimes called underwater islands because they are small areas of dirt or sand that form a small mound underwater meaning they are shallowest at the top and deepest near the bottom.
- Inside and Outside weed lines – a weed line is simply an area where they is heavy vegetation. An inside weed line refers to the shallower side of the weed line and an outside weed line refers to the deeper side.
- Rock piles – no real explanation needed here. Look for piles of rocks and you know there is a decent chance there will be fish congregating there.
Find out what the structure of the lake is that you are planning to fish and then cut your hole in and around that structure. Fish are less active in the winter so if you are fishing a particular structure for a while and aren’t getting any activity, it might be a good idea to move on to another part of the lake.
Cut Multiple Holes
Once you understand what the lake looks like underneath the ice, it is time to cut your hole. The typical idea of ice fishing is to dig one hole and then to sit and wait for the fish to come. This is a somewhat outdated and rather ineffective way of trying to catch fish. Instead, Once you have decided on which structure you would like to fish, drill a few holes and monitor them to see if you have any luck. If not, move on to the next structure. Here are some tips for how to use multiple holes:
- Jig hole – drop your bait down to the bottom and do some slight jigging. Be careful not to jig too much because in winter fish move quite slow and will be unwilling to go after something moving too fast
- Sonar hole – If you have a sonar or fish finder it could be a good idea to put it in this hole to have an idea of what it going on underneath the ice
- Chum hole – in another hole you are using drop some bait down that isn’t moving or put some chum in the hole. This will help attract fish to the area and give you a better chance of catching something.
Remember to cover over the holes you cut since fish are frightened by the light and will avoid the area where you are fishing.
If you really prefer the harder way of doing things you can dig your holes using a pick axe or a shovel but really, it’s advisable to invest in an ice auger. These screw-action tools come in manual or power designs (electric, propane or gas), and offer a range of diameters. Manual augers are the most cost effective for beginners. They commonly drill 4- to 8-inch holes in the ice. Power augers can drill 10-inch holes and are more efficient, but are also heavier and need to be serviced periodically.
Plus, have an ice skimmer handy to keep the hole clear, and overlay a rubber floor mat with a cut-out opening around the hole to retard ice buildup.
Ice shelters are structures, engineered in flip-down (“clam style”) and squared or hexagonal front-access designs, that can be setup or collapsed swiftly and help to keep you shielded from the elements.
Ranging from 1- to 8-person capacities, ice shelters are made with rugged, multi-layer fabrics that offer breathable, thermal insulation. Pair it with a portable space heater and you’ll fish in creature comfort, regardless of the brutal temperatures and conditions outside.
With the excitement that comes with ice fishing, it can be easy to forget that you are standing on a very unpredictable surface. There are a few items that you will need to ensure that your ice fishing trip is a safe one.
- Spud bar (or ice chisel): These walking sticks are used to test ice in front of you as you walk.
- Safety picks: These floating safety picks have handles that are connected by a cord and worn on your body. Safety picks are designed to help you if you fall through the ice — grab them and jab them into the ice to help pull yourself out.
- Throw bag: this includes a rope and a foam float and can be tossed to an angler who has fallen through the ice.
- Safety whistle
- Personal Flotation Device (PFD): This streamlined design can be inflated by a CO2 canister. A foam-style vest can also be worn, but can be clumsy while fishing.
Once your shelter is up and your holes are drilled, it’s time to gear up.
For novices, wax worms tipped to 1/64 oz. jigheads are easy to rig and highly effective on just about anything that swims. Use lightweight and affordable spinning reel combos (ice fishing rods are usually only 2.5 to 3 feet long) with 2- to 4-pound line if you’re targeting panfish (crappie, bluegill, rockbass or perch) and 6- to 8-pound braided line if zeroing in on predatory species like walleye, sauger, largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel or northern pike.
Tip-ups, which use only a spool of line attached to a platform trigger mechanism that straddles the hole in the ice, offer a more finesse-style method of fishing. Once the fish bites, the angler sets the hook using a hand-over-hand retrieval method. This technique is a bit more advanced for some, but can be learned quickly.
Small plastics with swim tails (grubs) or hardbaits (1/4 oz. spoons and lipless crankbaits) are also a great way to go. These should be fished using a vertical presentation (twitching the bait slightly up and down) to create vibration or generate flash, which gets the attention of suspended fish. Note that during the deep freeze, most species of fish tend to hover off the bottom so keeping your lure a few cranks off of it in the strike zone is crucial.
Newcomers to the sport can also use tried-and-true live bait options like minnows (hook them behind the dorsal fin for the best presentation) or leeches. But these will need to be re-rigged more often.
Generally, cold temperatures mean fish bite more subtly so be attentive and watch that rod tip for any movement. You can use a rod holder, but double-check that drag and always be ready to put that cup of coffee down and set the hook.
Ice Fishing Etiquette
Like any group activity, there are a couple of key rules to ensure proper respect for others who are also out enjoying the sport.
- Do not drill your holes too close to another angler. Try to give at least a 30-foot berth to the next guy whenever possible.
- It’s all about selective harvest. A handful of guys could severely impact a population of fish on a body of water over a season. As more newcomers are introduced, folks are being encouraged to be good stewards and save some for the other guy by harvesting a few mid-sized fish and releasing the biggest fish to preserve trophy genetics.