What is ice fishing? Most of us have heard of it or we have seen it in a video but we don’t really know what it is like or how to do it. My goal is to simply teach you what ice fishing is.
Ice fishing is a sport where you drill a hole through the ice on a lake and use various ice fishing instruments to catch fish. This can be a dangerous activity but with good planning and understanding, it can be rewarding.
I get it. Ice fishing sounds like way too much effort. I want to explain ice fishing in a way that makes sense and shows what kind of experience ice fishing can be.
What is Ice Fishing? Is It Enjoyable?
Ice fishing can be enjoyed by yourself or with friends!
Think about this, you are out on the lake in the dead of winter and you’ve got your fishing rod and equipment. You’re ready to drill a hole in the lake and then get to it! Sounds fun right? Well, maybe not to everybody but I have seen some benefits and things that I find enjoyable about it.
First off, if you enjoy being alone, this might be something you are interested in. I like to call this a “Ron Swanson activity.” Ron Swanson is a fictional character who likes to spend a lot of time outdoors in solitude without any human interference. Ice fishing can be that activity.
Ice fishing can also be the opposite of that. It can be an activity enjoyed with your buddies, friends, family, etc. I think that this way is safer overall but to each their own. Take your friends out and have a nice day of catching up while waiting for the fish to catch the lure.
If you are new to ice fishing and you want to learn, find a friend who is willing to take you with. This could be a great bonding experience. I am always a fan of getting to know someone better and what better way to bond is there than fishing?
One of my favorite things about fishing, in general, is working hard for a catch and then the sweet victory of eating your caught meal. Whether it is fishing in the summer or the winter, there is nothing quite like it.
There is planning involved in ice fishing. During the summer it is a lot easier to just take a boat out with your license in approved waters and then wait for the fish to get hungry. The winter months take a lot more careful planning.
There can be painful and/or dangerous consequences that stem from poor planning and preparation so let’s talk about what you can do to make the entire circumstance safer.
Ice Fishing Safety
Since this is probably a new activity for you, start small. What I mean by that is going to places you know. Stay local. That way you can get help from those you know in case you get into trouble. Look for popular areas. There is safety in numbers.
If the ice is less than 4 inches thick, that’s a no go.
Do not crowd other anglers though. Find your own spot and watch how the masters do their work. The community of ice fishers are often very friendly so do not be intimidated by other anglers! Ask questions and be willing to learn. Get feedback on where you should start your new hobby.
Bring plenty of warm gear. I have a whole section on that a little lower in the article if you want to check that out. Also, bring plenty of warm liquids. That will keep your body warm and toasty in the cold winter day.
If the ice is less than 4 inches thick, that’s a no go. Save yourself from that predicament and go somewhere else. Avoid places with tons of moving water. These areas are not as frozen as still waters.
Look out for areas with lots of snow. Snow creates more pressure on the ice and combined with the pressure you are creating can be potentially dangerous. Snow also insulates. It may warm up the ice and slow the process of freezing water.
If you hear the ice cracking, move somewhere else. That’s just a given. You will learn to understand what that sounds like and what the difference is as you go along.
What Equipment is Used for Ice Fishing?
Let’s talk about the specifics of ice fishing and what kind of equipment you will be using.
Ice fishing rods tend to be much smaller than normal fishing rods. Most are anywhere from 24 to 36 inches. Do not worry, they are meant to be that way. Ice fishing is a more “intimate” sport when it comes to physical space between you and the fish than normal fishing.
There are plenty of different rods and reels with lengths, styles and other factors for specific kinds of fish or versions of ice fishing.
If you are looking for a seat, just bring a five-gallon bucket. It’s simple, versatile and everybody has one lying around. That is all I have to say about seats.
“How do I cut a hole in the ice?” you might ask. You use something called an “ice auger.” They are a really useful spiral cutting tool that will create holes about 4 to 8 inches in diameter.
You are going to want to go light on the lines and bait. Fish are slower and react less in the winter so you do not need heavy line.
You can buy a battery or gas-powered auger. They are useful to preserve your energy but they are pretty expensive.
I have heard of something called a lazer blade for cutting ice. You could look into that. You can’t go wrong with ice auger though.
You are going to get tired of holding the rod for a long period of time. Rod holders are a great way to just relax and let things happen. You can find ones that fit around a five-gallon bucket or ones that stand on their own and hold the rod.
Make sure you have your terminal tackle. Split shot weights will help your bait get down faster. There are different kinds of weights you can choose from. Research the kind of hooks you need for the kinds of fish you are looking to get.
Other Useful Tools
Tip-ups are an amazing tool to know when a fish has latched onto the bait. It is a mechanism that sits on the hole and has a flag to signal when a fish has taken the bait. Buy a few of these.
Skimmers are a good tool to keep your hands warm and away from the ice. It is basically a stick with a cup at the bottom to scoop out ice chunks and anything else that is interfering with the fishing hole. Honestly, you could probably make your own.
Ice Fishing Clothes
You are going to want layers upon layers. I am not kidding.
The first layer should be close to the body. Avoid something loose. Sweat can make you really cold and can lead to things like hypothermia. Because I do not want you to get hypothermia, I suggest wearing an under-layer material that is moisture-wicking.
Cover your entire body with this material. Shirt, pants, socks, mitten liners, and whatever else you can think to get your hands on. Bring extras of socks, boot liners and mitten liner as available.
I do not recommend cotton. If cotton gets wet, it stays wet. Fabrics like polyester or polypropylene that are synthetic are really good and that is what you should look for. Merino wool is also a great option if you would rather have something that has natural fibers.
The second layer needs to keep you warm. Wool does a good job at this. Another material that works is fleece. A down jacket is a really great choice as well. These materials are meant to keep you warm in the cold weather.
A windbreaker is the final layer that you will need. Down jackets are also great for this purpose. After you put all of your other layers on, top it off with a rip-stop nylon windbreaking shell.
Your feet will need a lot of support to stay warm. Wool socks are great. Get boots that are waterproof and well insulated. Protect your feet as best as you can and have back up socks.
Okay so that was not a ton of layers but it is important that you clothe yourself well. You can add more or modify based on your personal experience.
Important Tip: Make sure you do not get too sweaty while on your way to the area you will fish at. Unzip your jackets if you start getting hot or sweaty. While driving to the spot, keep your shoes until and loose.
Where Can I Ice Fish? You will have to look in your individual states. Still waters or even smaller bodies of water are your best bet because the ice will be thicker in these areas. Plenty of lakes are available for fishing around the United States.
Do I Need A License to Ice Fish? You need a license to ice fish. If you have to have a license to fish, you have to have a license to ice fish. You can research laws in your specific area for any additional information on fishing laws.