If you want to go ice fishing, you may wonder what type of equipment you need to get started. You are wise to want to be prepared since nothing ruins a fun ice fishing trip like realizing you forgot something essential. So, I’m here to tell you all the things you should bring.
To go ice fishing for the first time, you need a rod (and/or a tip-up), fishing line, lures, bait, an ice auger, and warm clothing.
I will explain why you need these things and what to look for when getting them. Also, there are some other pieces of equipment that aren’t required but will make things easier for you.
Rod and Reel
The most common method for fishing is to use a rod, and ice fishing is no different.
It is possible to use any fishing rod for ice fishing, but you will find it much easier to use a specialized ice rod. These rods are compact.
You have to consider that when you fish normally, in warm weather, you have plenty of space to cast your line wherever and plenty of room to fight a fish you’ve hooked. But with ice fishing, you only have the little hole in the ice. An ice rod is designed to let you catch large fish even in these circumstances.
Additionally, the tips of these rods are sensitive so that you’ll be able to notice any fish that’s bitten your hook. When you have a bite, the tip will bend. That’s when you start bringing your line back to you, and hopefully, a fish will come with it.
If you have ever fished or seen someone fish, you probably know about the reel: the device with the rotating handles that brings your line closer to you after you’ve cast it out. You are going to want a reel for your rod when ice fishing as well.
Reels just makes bringing fish to the surface far easier. Having to pull your line up by hand is not all that efficient. Being able to simply turn the handles to reel in a fish is easy and quick.
Reels also give you flexibility on how much line you want to use at a given time. Sometimes you want to lower the line deeper underwater; sometimes you target shallow waters. With a reel, you’ll have a lot of line on its spool to work with, so you can make these adjustments on the fly.
Many rods come with reels included, but not all do. Make sure you pay attention to this when buying a rod. Beginning fishers might not realize that these two things are separate, so that’s why I’ve explained the distinction.
For help finding good ice fishing rods, check out an article that I wrote about it.
Rods are the go-to tool for fishing and are extremely good for the job, but ice fishing does offer another tool. That’s the tip-up.
You can use tip-ups instead of a fishing rod. However, you might find this a bit boring.
That’s because what a tip-up does is suspend bait underwater. When the device feels a big yank made on the line, a flag pops up. That flag lets the fisher know that they most likely have a fish hooked.
Of course, tip-ups use the same fishing line as rods, though your lure strategy could change a bit when using them. So everything in this article that applies to rods applies to tip-ups too, with the exception of jigging.
You can use tip-ups as an alternative to rods, but since the only work for you to do is to get the tip-up ready and then to pull up fish when they’re caught, you might choose not to, since it’s such a passive method.
Instead of using them as an alternative, a smarter option is to use tip-ups in combination with a rod. That way, you have multiple lines in the water. You will need to dig multiple holes to do this, of course.
So, tip-ups are not a requirement to go ice fishing, but they can make your fishing better. And if the idea of them really appeals to you, you can even use them instead of rods. For more discussion on the pros and cons of tip-ups versus rods, see another article that I wrote.
You have probably already figured this out, but you need fishing line to go ice fishing.
There are so many kinds of line out there that it may seem impossible as a beginner to figure out which one to get. However, we are not looking for perfection here, so don’t stress too much about it. As you gain experience, you will learn the differences in types of line and know which are best for different situations.
One recommendation I will make is for braided line. Braided line is great for ice fishing. Unlike the super-thin line you usually see, braided line is a lot more visible. Why would you want that? It’s easier to handle when you’re out in the cold and snow. A thin line can become almost invisible when placed on snow. Plus, you don’t have as much dexterity as usual when wearing gloves.
If you are wondering about what pound test to use, that depends on what kinds of fish you are targeting. Logically, larger fish will necessitate the use of a heavier line. That does not mean you want to go with the heaviest line possible automatically. You don’t want fish to even see the line, so go with the lightest possible while still being heavy enough to catch the kind of fish you want.
Lures and Bait
Like with normal fishing, when ice fishing, you need something to attract the fish. Fish may not be that smart, but they aren’t going to bite on a hook just for fun.
There are plenty of different methods to try. You can use a combination of lures and live bait. Lures will get the fishes’ attention by being shiny and attractive. Then you can use bait like small fish to get them to bite.
Which bait you should use depends on the kind of fish you want since different fish have different eating preferences.
Then there are jigs, which you can use instead of live bait. Jigs are designed to twitch around rapidly to imitate a living creature as the fisher moves their rod.
Note that tip-ups can’t jig since they just let the bait hang there. However, there is a special kind of tip-up, called windlass tip-ups, that does jig through the use of wind.
Part of the appeal of jigging is having something to actually do while waiting for fish to bite. Sure, you could just use bait, drop your line in the water, and sit there, but you might find it more fun to actively jig. You may also attract more fish this way.
Lures can and should be used regardless of whether you are going to stick to live bait or use jigs. There are many kinds available, and some may be better for attracting certain types of fish than others, so it helps to do research on what fish you’ll find at the place you’re planning to fish at and on what lures they like.
One of the most popular lures on the market is the Swedish Pimple. Recently I wrote an article explaining what this lure is and how to use it. Fishermen absolutely love this lure for ice fishing, so if you’re looking for a lure that will bring you success, I recommend this one.
In summary, to attract fish, you’re going to want some lures and either live bait (such as minnows) or jigs. Without these things, you are not going to catch any fish.
To catch the fish that swim beneath thick ice, you are going to need to cut a hole. To make that hole, you will want an ice auger.
True, you could brute-force your way through the ice with a chisel, but that won’t be easy at all if the ice is really thick. You could also use a saw.
But I believe augers to be the easiest method for making holes for ice fishing.
An auger is simply a drill. You just put your auger on the ice and turn the handle, and before you know it, you’ll have a nice portal to all the fish hiding beneath the ice.
Manual augers are inexpensive and easy to operate. There are also gas and electric powered-augers. While these power augers certainly reduce the amount of work you have to do, for most people, they are unnecessary. If you are only going to drill two or three holes, a manual auger won’t wear you out.
If you do plan to drill a dozen holes for some reason, then a power auger would be worth getting. Otherwise, it’s not really worth the cost and effort of buying and maintaining one.
Making a hole in the ice is a simple part of ice fishing, but you definitely can’t forget the equipment needed to do it. So, get a good auger and always bring it on your ice fishing trips.
I’ve talked so far about the things you need to do to catch fish, but you can’t forget about protecting your own body. If you’re going ice fishing, it will be pretty cold out there–which is probably also why most people don’t go ice fishing, incidentally. So, you need clothes to prevent yourself from both becoming ill and simply just being uncomfortable.
Basically, cover as much of your body as possible. Any exposed skin is a place for your warmth to leave you.
You should definitely wear gloves. You might be worried about being able to use your fingers if they’re covered with thick gloves, but you can get good gloves that keep your hands warm while still allowing for fine movements.
Whatever you wear, it’s essential to dress in layers. You may have a fancy jacket, but in case the temperature starts getting warmer, you should have some layers underneath. What if you’re too warm in your jacket but all you have underneath is a T-shirt? Then you’ll be too cold. So, wear layers. That way you can adjust to any temperature changes.
Also, wear waterproof clothes as much as possible. You may find yourself in a lot of snow, and it will be a problem if you get wet.
On that note, avoid cotton. Cotton is extremely slow to dry. If your sweat soaks a cotton shirt, that shirt is not going to dry, and that’s bad. You will get cold if you’re wet.
For more advice on dressing for ice fishing, look at this article that I wrote about it.
If you want to be especially warm, or if you know you’re going up against some extreme temperatures and wind, then you may want a shelter. A shelter isn’t required to get started in ice fishing otherwise.
Serious fishers may bring a wooden shack onto the ice and leave it there all season, but as a first-timer, you’re probably not planning on doing that. Luckily, there are many portable tent shelters you can buy.
A tent shelter for ice fishing is exactly what it sounds like: a tent that protects you from the wind while still letting you fish. Normal tents, the kind you sleep in when camping, have floors, but these tents don’t. You can probably guess that the reason behind that is so you can fish from within the protection of the tent.
Wind is a major nuisance whenever it’s cold outside. It makes it so you feel a lot colder than the temperature would suggest. It can make it hard to endure spending many hours outside. This is the reason tent shelters are so useful. And it seems that more often than not, days spent ice fishing are at least a bit windy.
If you want to make sure you’re comfortable when ice fishing, tent shelters are a great way to do so. And if you want to see some good tents you can buy, check out an article I wrote about it.
The downside to tent shelters is that you can’t cover a lot of ground without leaving them. But even if you choose to leave the tent to go check on holes in another location, having that time to take shelter in the tent is better than nothing.
So, overall, shelters aren’t a requirement, unless you want to ice fish in ridiculously cold weather.
Optional: Portable Heater
There is yet another way to warm up. By no means do you need one of these, but if you really want to eliminate all risk of being cold, you can get a portable gas heater.
These are devices that burn propane to emit lots of heat. The only limit to how long they run is how much propane you bring.
The benefits of having a heater out in cold weather don’t really demand much explanation. No doubt it feels amazing to stand near one on a freezing day outside.
You don’t need to worry about the heater melting the ice. If ice is thick enough for you to stand on, it’s much too strong to be melted by the relatively small amount of heat that a propane heater can emit.
Check out a list I made of some excellent portable heaters you can buy.
Heaters are not required to go ice fishing, but if you want to ensure that you’re comfortable, go ahead and bring one. After all, if more people knew they could be so warm when ice fishing, they might feel like going.
Optional: Fish Finder
One of the difficult parts of any fishing is figuring out where the fish are located. In this modern age, we can use technology to mitigate this challenge.
Using sensors, fish finders can “see” fish as they swim underwater. Fishers can look on the screen of these devices and quickly see hotspots where fish are gathered.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Of course, a good fish finder is not all that cheap, but if you can afford it, why not get one and save yourself the trouble of having to guess where fish are at?
Now, you absolutely do not need one to start ice fishing, but getting anyone will only make catching fish easier for you.
And once again, I’ve made a convenient list of amazing fish finders you can buy.
As you’ve seen from this list, ice fishing doesn’t demand that you get a ton of new gear, but there are plenty of things you can get to have more success and make fishing easier. All you really need to get started is a way to cut a hole, a way to trap fish, and plenty of clothes to keep you warm and dry. If you’ve got those things, you can have a great time ice fishing.