How to Ice Fish Like a Professional

Written by Brandon Garrett

Ice fishing has come a long way since its origins with Native Americans in the great lakes. It’s moved from a basic line in the water to people building fully stocked ice houses around the hole.

Ice fishing is a great recreational activity, but it can also be a great way to bring food to the table during the winter time. In a survival situation, ice fishing can provide an essential meal when there are no plants to scavenge. Here are some basic tips on ice fishing.

Picking a Spot
How to Ice FishWhen you think of dangerous situations, fishing probably doesn’t top the list. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, ice fishing can be dangerous.

The most obvious threat when ice fishing is falling through the ice. You’ll always need to check the thickness of the ice before walking on it or driving a vehicle on top of it. As a general rule, the ice should be at least four inches thick to be considered stable. Ice that is over eight inches can support small cars and ice that is 12 inches deep can support a small truck. If you see white ice, that usually means the area is weaker. If the ice is white, make sure the thickness is at least double what the above recommendations say.

Another hazard is slipping on the ice. You can easily break a bone or injure yourself by falling on hard ice. You can wear crampons on non-slip boots while ice fishing. A broken bone would ruin a good ice fishing trip but if you’re in a survival situation, a broken bone could be the difference between life and death.

The last hazard of ice fishing is wearing the correct clothing. You’ll want to wear layers that can easily peel off. Keep the layers closest to your body dry. Even a small amount of perspiration can make you cold which can lead to hypothermia. You can also wear optional layers of cotton, wool and polypropylene. These layers will trap in heat and keep moisture off of you. The outer layer should be a wind breaking layer that keep the chill winds and moisture off of you.

Most ice fishermen will choose a spot where they know the fish gather. Typically the fish will gather in the deepest parts of a lake. You can use a simple fishing radar to determine where the deepest sections are. In rivers, the flow of the river will also force fish into certain areas. Strategically determine where the fish in your area will be located.

Making a Hole
When creating your hole, make sure that it does not exceed 12 inches across. You can use an ice auger, chisel and skimmer to clear the hole. Many ice fishermen will use a sled or toboggan to transport their equipment with them across the ice.

To create the hole, you’ll usually start with an ice chisel or “spud.” These chisels can also be used to chop holes early in the ice fishing season when the ice is thinner. Look for a chisel that a line which can attach to your arm. You don’t want to break through the ice only to have your chisel slip through the ice and sink to the bottom of a lake.

The ice auger is basically a giant drill that burrows down in the ice to create an opening. Many times these can be hand powered. However, you can also purchase gas-powered or electric ice augers.

You can then use a skimmer – a long ladle with a shallow, sieved bowl – to clear ice chunks and slush out of your hole.

Other Equipment
There are a few other pieces of equipment that you might consider helpful. You’ll probably remember the bait bucket or needlenose pliers to remove the hook from the fish’s mouth. However, most people forget items like a gaff hook to lift slippery fish out of the hole; a dip net to catch more bait like minnows; or a seat so you don’t sit directly on the ice.

Preparing the Bait
You can always use typical bait like worms or lures while ice fishing. However, if you’re in a survival situation, the ground might be too frozen to dig for worms. If that’s the case, you can always search for worms in above-ground rotting logs. However, you can also make jiggs or catch minnows.

Many ice fisherman will create a hole in the ice and drop their dip net to catch passing minnows. These minnows make great bait for predators including pike and perch. In a survival situation, you can also create a jig out of a simple feather.

Waiting and Fishing
An ice fishing pole is shorter than the regular fishing rod. There are two basic ways to do ice fishing:

Jigging Rod. This is the traditional fishing pole for ice fishing. It’s only about 2 feet long. You typically bob this up and down slightly every few seconds to get the fish’s attention. If you bob it too much it will scare off the fish.

Tip-Up Pole. This is typically made of wood or plastic. It it basically a long stick with a reel and trigger that hangs down from the hole. A flag is attached to a spring at the top of the stick. As the fish bites, the spring releases and the flag goes into the air to notify you that you’ve made a catch. The tip-up pole is great for placing a lot of lures and going to do other business.

Sit Stick. This is the poor-man’s tip-up pole. It’s basically a plank or stick that lays across the opening of the hole with multiple lines placed in the water. You wouldn’t be notified with a flying flag but with multiple lures in the water, you increase your chances of catching a fish.

Your Advice?
So, we’ve give you a few ideas about the basics of ice fishing. But what ideas do you have? Have you been out ice fishing? What advice would you have for others that are doing it for the first time?

Updated December 18, 2013

3 Comments

  1. chris casarez wrote:

    This time of year all fish are not eatting much as there food supply is low. Its been my experiance that a can of corn or powerbait works like a champ. Be careful as some areas may not be able to use corn. Powerbait is always my first choice.

    December 19th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
  2. JSW wrote:

    Use a 5 gallon (or similar size) pail to carry your tackle and catch (that will fit), it also works as a seat, shovel/snow scoop for making wind breaks of snow. Carry a towel to dry hands. Ice picks in early and late season for poor ice. For bait, use minnows, wax worms or other grubs/larvae, on a shiny Swedish Pimple or Lindy rigged hook. Fish will congregate in the same areas in winter they will in summer… if you know the biody of water, look for those weed edges, rock outcrops and humps, and those really deep spot transitions between humps. Stream entries to lakes are good places in winter as well as summer- more O2 being pushed in.
    Dress warmly, keep your back to the wind, and have fun.

    December 20th, 2013 at 9:52 am
  3. vitaly wrote:

    “You can also wear optional layers of cotton, wool and polypropylene. These layers will trap in heat and keep moisture off of you.”

    Might want to omit cotton from that sentence since it does the opposite of keeping moisture away from you. In fact, I’d specifically advise NOT to wear cotton when going outside in the winter.

    November 17th, 2014 at 11:36 am

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