If you’re planning a maiden voyage onto ice with rod and reel, you must be aware of how ice fishing differs from fair-weather fishing. If not properly equipped and prepared, you risk a very unpleasant outing at best and a perilous one at worst.
For one, ice changes your approach and what you need to bring to your fishing hole, outside of fishing gear. Of course, knowing the right kind of fishing gear to use on ice directly affects your chances of success.
Let’s look at all the essential supplies and gear you need before you set out for your icy adventure.
| Tip: Also check out our Ice Fishing Guide for Beginners here….
- What to Wear for Ice Fishing? Bring these Clothes
- Essential Ice Fishing Gear and Tackle
- Accessories To Keep You Comfy in the Cold
- Final Words
What to Wear for Ice Fishing? Bring these Clothes
When packing for your first ice fishing trip, consider the environment around you.
- Temps will dip below freezing and occasionally below zero. You will not be sheltered from the wind chill by trees unless you fish on a very small frozen pond.
- Conversely, when the sun is high on a bright day, your eyes and head will not be sheltered from the ultraviolet rays.
Given winter’s harshness, include the following apparel and accessories:
✔ Insulate with full-length, wicking underwear of neoprene, nylon, polyester, or a blend of these materials.
✔ Use layers (ones that wick sweat) beneath a down or synthetic-filled parka and perhaps a rain-resistant shell if the forecast calls for precipitation.
✔ Bring a stocking cap or hat that protects not only your pate but your ears as well. A waterproof shell that includes a hood works best for beating the chill of precipitation or wind.
✔ Good gloves rank as high on the list as any of the aforementioned items. Make sure they are designed to render your fingers some dexterity. Ski gloves will not do. Open-tipped neoprene gloves and tight gloves of waterproof material with a gripping texture prove ideal.
✔ Definitely not least on this list: proper footwear from socks to shoes. Use thermal socks that wick moisture. Otherwise your feet will be the most painful part of your body when it comes to coursing a layer of snow or slushy snow atop ice.
✔ Boots of waterproof, genuine leather and sweat-wicking insulation can keep your feet snug and warm, as well as rubber boots with similar insulation.
✔ Sunglasses will protect your eyes over the many hours spent on ice. On clear, sunny, winter days, the sun’s rays reflect directly from the snow or ice directly at your feet and up to your cornea and eyelids, risking a lot of pain and possible damage to the eyes.
✔ Emergency items: Bring a headlamp if you are fishing an extremely large lake or reservoir because your trip back to the rig might be delayed from an unexpected incident or you could actually lose your way back, which is best prevented with a compass and map or a GPS unit.
In case the worst happens—i.e.—falling though an ice hole or slipping on your tush in very wet slush—stuff some extra, winter-resilient clothing in your daypack.
Essential Ice Fishing Gear and Tackle
Of course, you need some type of rod, reel and line. Let’s have a look at the ice fishing gear you need.
A good ice augur is an essential part of your ice fishing equipment. You need to decide between a hand augur or a motorized augur. The latter is quite costly, but totally worth it, as you will be drilling several holes during a day on the ice. If you decide to go with the hand augur, make sure to bring an extension shaft and make sure you had a good breakfast.
Conventional Rod, Reel
You can save some bucks by simply going with your fair-weather fishing gear as long as the rod is light to medium action and not too long.
A 5–6 foot rod with either a baitcasting, spinning or even single-action reel (in shallow water) all work fine on ice.
The only drawbacks include the clumsiness of long rods, including the rod’s bend as you hoist and swing a fish through the ice hole and its unwieldy nature when packing it onto the ice.
Designed specifically for ice fishing, these devices consist of a mount spanning the ice hole and either accommodate an extremely short rod or simply two spooks if line—one on top and one just below the tip-up device.
The latter requires the angler to hand-line the fish up through a submerged shaft that connects the line between upper and lower spool.
A brightly colored flag indicates when a fish strikes. The variations on tip-up devices rival the number of worms in a carton. Choose the one you think works best for your ice-fishing skills.
On ice, you don’t need to use anything but monofilament for the most part. Basic fishing knots are easy to tie and they don’t slip as easily as with braided lines which require more complex knots.
| Also read: What are the best fishing lines?
However, some like to use braided line when fishing for large species—e.g., lake trout, pike, muskie or large char species—simply for its strength and the lack of stretch inherent in mono lines.
It also senses any tick on the end of the hook much more acutely than mono, which makes this type of line advantageous for the light nibbles by all sizes of fish which usually behave more sluggishly during winter than in warmer seasons.
The majority of ice anglers use bait, including all the common ones: earthworms, eggs, corn, minnows, sometimes crustaceans and grubs.
Power Bait and similar concoctions work as well. As for lures, jigs and plastic grubs rank right next to bait in popularity. Bright colors often produce best results because of the ice and snow cover over the water.
Some tip-ups—using wind power or a small motor—will even jig the lure for you as you keep your hands warm beneath your thighs on the bucket or stool.
Don’t use hooks or swivels too large under ice. Fish school and remain quite static in freezing weather; they have all the time in the world to notice protruding shanks, large swivel eyes or even the shininess of these little devices. Sizes you would use during summer work perfectly.
Fish finders or flashers
One or the other of these devices help detect schools of fish just as they would on your boat in fair weather. Choose either a handheld or full-size that you can prop up on the ice.
Some come with weather protective jackets or covers. Not all anglers go to the lengths of using these sonar units, but they certainly give the angler an edge on the fish.
Where allowed by agency regulations, you can’t beat a snowmobile, especially on very large lakes and reservoirs.
Check the rules in your state. Otherwise, kids’ wagons, sleds and pigs—a sled-like, oblong and concave disk used for winter expeditions by climbers—serve your purposes just fine. A shoulder harness for these devices eases the strain.
Accessories To Keep You Comfy in the Cold
Many anglers use an old pickle bucket or similar, which also serve to pack some gear toward your chosen fishing spot. Otherwise, retailers sell a wide selection of fold-out stools or chairs that include pouches and pockets to hold gear or other comfort devices.
These include propane heaters, generator-run electric heaters (especially in an ice hut) and even a fire on thick enough ice for the heat.
- Bring your own kindling and fire starters.
- Also, be sure to keep the fire a safe distance from your ice hole and surrounding gear.
The friction-engaged chemicals packaged inside plastic that fit inside mittens or even footwear also help keep your hands and feet toasty.
A Well-insulated Thermos
Because of its size, it might be easy to forget when shuffling out the door with all the other accouterments needed for a comfortable day on the ice. Warm beverages can’t stay warm without one.
On very popular ice-fishing waters in northern states where ice is almost guaranteed each winter, you can find pre-made sheds or huts on the ice that are either rented or abandoned and kept unlocked by a previous angler who doesn’t mind others using it.
Otherwise, you can purchase a pop-up shelter sold at outdoor retailers and very similar to portable deer-hunting stands. These noticeably break the chill of the wind and keep you from getting wet by rain or snow.
Some simply bring along their four-season hiking tent in which to warm up or dive into during a snow or rain shower.
In Between Bites
For those periods when the fishing is slow, a pair of binoculars or sighting scope can prove entertaining.
Search for winter wildlife in the distance or anglers who are plucking more fish out of the ice than you. Then, pick up your gear and head to that section of the lake.
You might even bring along a good book to read between bites.
We hope our list of essential ice fishing gear proves useful for your first ice fishing trip. A leisurely stroll through a large outdoor retailer’s aisle or a web surf from the comfort of home can fill you with all sorts of new ideas for more equipment that can make your ice fishing experience more comfortable or safe.
Like all fishing, keep safety, fun and convenience in the forefront of your mind.